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Eurovision 2018 – Semi Final 2 Reviews

Day 3 in the Eurovision Press centre and we’ve all lost our critical faculties. Madness has set in. Let’s have the other half of my reviews which I wrote when I could still judge anything.

 

Norway: Alexander Rybak – That’s How You Write A Song 

As you heard on Juke Box Jury, I’m in a strange superposition of like/dislike on this one. It’s a very strange feeling indeed. On the one hand, Alexander is an absolute master on stage. He’s a true star, able to sprinkle actual stardust on anything. On the other hand, ‘That’s How You Write A Song’ has a lot of short-comings. There are no real new ideas after the 2nd verse, there’s no moment of emotional catharsis or climax (unless you really enjoy a fiddle reveal) and it’s definitely on the side of being childish rather than sophisticated. But what’s wrong with being childish? The world is going to hell. Why not have a manic pixie dream boy tell us that everything will be alright if we just believe in ourselves and try hard?

Grab factor: The performer. The song.

Drag factor: The song. The performer.

 

Romania: The Humans – Goodbye

There’s definitely a song there. There’s a big 90s chart power ballad there. There’s a one hit wonder that gets put on Inspirational Compilation for Mum Volume 3. There’s a band with a really fantastic frontwoman and some guys. There’s a couple of very long maudlin verses and there’s a chorus which seems to have a lot of words in it. There’s something there.

Grab factor: Power ballad grabby fist of pure emotion

Drag factor: Takes forever to get going

 

Serbia: Balkanica – Nova Deca

I remember enjoying the interval at Beovizija so much – an endless parade of the best and boldest that former Yugoslav republics had offered – that I sort of forgot who won. Being forgotten has been Serbia’s curse this year. I keep forgetting that this song is in the competition, and the curse even caused it to be left out of the Juke Box Jury line up. It is pleasant. It starts. It continues. It finishes.

Grab factor: mmm, difficult

Drag factor: The Curse of Forgetting

 

San Marino: Jessika & Jenifer Brening – Who We Are

After a troubled and confusing selection process, San Marino has make the Eurovision dreams of Malta’s Jessika Muscat and Germany’s Jenifer Brening come true. They’re such lovely and personable gals that I wish they had a better song than Who We Are with its daft rap bit and its deeply familiar chorus.

Grab factor: Listen up, listen up, it’s me Jenny B

Drag factor: If they don’t bring the robots, they’re sunk

 

Denmark: Rasmussen – Higher Ground

A big old hunk of Viking cheese, and a sourdough roll, washed down with some pseudo authentic early Medieval ale down the historical re-enactment centre. A tale of the sort of Vikings who decided that trading and getting on with people was less tiring and more effective than the old raiding and naval invasion. But gosh, it’s stirring! And everyone is already on board with the whole Game of Viking Black Sails Dark Souls post-Roman weathered leather aesthetic. This is fine. Well done Denmark for finding a variety of safe that is actually quite rugged and sexy.

Grab factor: It’s yer man! Yer man who wants to have babies with the lady knight! It’s that massive ginger beardy man!

Drag factor: Big formulaic cheese anthem, once you get through the +3 leather armour.

 

Russia: Yulia Samoylova – I Won’t Break

A pleasingly melodic R&B ballad with a hummable chorus, which sadly isn’t delivered to its full potential because of the problems with Yulia’s diction when singing in English. The staging is clearly going to be astonishing in either a good or bad way, and I am terribly nervous about the whole spectacle.

Grab factor: Mount Russiamore seems like it’s happening.

Drag factor: If they’ve not sorted out the backing vocals, we may have a problem.

 

Moldova: DoReDos – My Lucky Day

Now we get the actual Russia entry. I loved DoReDos in their previous perky folky attempts at representing Moldova, but it seems to have taken the intervention and mentorship of Philip Kirkorov for them to actually get the nod. My Lucky Day is precisely the kind of thing I was hoping they’d bring, all local trumpets and daft beats. I like it.

Grab factor: As fun and bouncy as a fully inflated space hopper

Drag factor: Not the most sophisticated thing in the world ever.

 

Netherlands: Waylon – Outlaw In E Minor

Ah dear. Either this is a pastiche of bone-headed gun-toting Deep South country rock or it is a literal 4 Real interpretation of bone-headed gun-toting Deep South country rock. If it is a big silly pastiche that is winking at the camera – making Waylon the Lordi of Country music I guess? – then I guess this is fine because it’s very good at what it does and packed full of good ol’ boy clichés. If it’s for real, then it’s a bit tragic because it’s packed full of good ol’ boy clichés. I need to find out myself who the real Waylon is, because at the minute his self-portrayal as an arrogant, saturnine chauvinist is conflicting heavily with his fans insistence that he’s a sweet wee chap with a heart of gold. If he’s for real, why isn’t this better? If this is a pastiche, why is it so humourless and studied? Why doesn’t it give me more of a sense of Waylon’s real experiences over in Nashville? Where is the heart?

Grab factor: Obvious but infectious guitar riff klaxon

Drag factor: Is the Netherland’s fave problematic? What is this?

 

Australia: Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love

It’s like if Azerbaijan’s song was good. Jessica Mauboy has a proper chance of winning it for the Aussies, who I am sure would be thrilled to say the least. I would also be thrilled for them, because they are one of the handful of Eurovision nations that really want it and are actively striving for the win. Some of the line breaks in the lyrics are a bit… odd but when you get to the drum break down bit and Jess starts vamping, it takes off. I am hoping for big things.

Grab factor: Big solid anthem with a warm heart.

Drag factor: I can still slightly see the template showing through

 

Georgia: Ethno Jazz Band Iraio – For You

This song is like a refreshing hot shower for your soul. Put it on, and let it wash over you. Let the ebb and flow take you away to the threshold of the jazz dimension. Let the polyphony intensify inside your soul. And enjoy it while it lasts because Georgia were the only ones to take Salvador’s memo about this being TradJazzovision seriously and I don’t think it’s going to work, no matter how beautiful it is.

Grab factor: This is a very well dressed band indeed

Drag factor: Folks haven’t been to the loo or the kitchen to top up drinks since either the start of the show or they were made very uncomfortable by the Russian staging. They’ve gone to the loo.

 

Poland: Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer – Light Me Up

I don’t really have a massive amount to say about this, it’s ok I suppose, especially when Lukas gets the big notes in the chorus. It is one of the most radio-friendly songs that we have in the competition, and maybe that’s why I feel so much like I could hear this whenever I wanted. And as such, it loses its appeal.

Grab factor: There’s a reasonable drop in it

Drag factor: There’s not a lot else to it.

 

Malta: Christabelle – Taboo

It’s Christabelle’s turn! She’s bringing us a message about the importance of relating to each other sensibly in terms of our states of mental health. This is one of the key messages of our times, alongside ‘Women are people’, ‘Racism isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid’ and ‘Don’t retweet hate speech’ and so it’s wonderful to see it on the Eurovision stage. Huge applause to Christabelle. Hope it looks great on stage.

Grab factor: Malta will bring it in terms of staging.

Drag factor: Song could be more sonically distinctive

 

Hungary: AWS – Viszlat Nyar

Hurrah! And as much as I didn’t love and don’t get the song from the Netherlands, I love and totally get this noisy little bundle of fun from Hungary. It’s a pop song about bereavement and acceptance of mortality hidden behind a squall of noisy, crunchy guitars. It’s a big bonfire of emotion and catharsis. It’s going to have the most pyro I have ever seen on a Eurovision stage. I am so happy that we’ve got AWS here. I would also be really upset if it turned out that they were pro-Orban types.

Grab factor: You already know whether you like this or not from the first second.

Drag factor: If you drink on pyro you will definitely die.

 

Latvia: Laura Rizotto – Funny Girl

With a big leathery swish-thwack, we enter the heightened emotional masochism of Laura Rizotto stuck in the friend zone, making her intended laugh but nothing else. Laura’s performance style is theatrical and physical, with head snaps and dramatic gestures that intensify the swish-thwack rhythm.

Grab factor: Laura herself

Drag factor: The song doesn’t really go anywhere, and the middle 8 is weak.

 

Sweden: Benjamin Ingrosso – Dance You Off

I’ve deliberately not watched the Melfest performance of Dance You Off, because apparently it’s visually spectacular and I want to be at least a little bit surprised by how it comes out on stage in Lisbon. The song itself is totally inoffensive, slick to the point of total frictionlessness. A good song needs a little bit of friction to it, otherwise it slips effortlessly in one of your ears and out the other, leaving barely a trace. Songs with a little bit of friction get stuck in your head without irritating your brain. There is no friction.

Grab factor: Ooooh, shiny!

Drag factor: The smooth polished surfaces of industrial Swedish pop.

 

Montenegro: Vanja Radovanovic – Inje

While the song is as far from last year’s Montenegrin song as you can imagine, the uncompromising artistic attitudes of the performers remain the same. In fact, that has been the case with all the really good Montenegrin acts. They are who they are, their music is what it is and they’re not willing to dilute even a little bit. Vanja is turning out to be one of the characters of this year’s contest, and the fact that this hilarious rebel is giving us a song about a relationship dying through entropic build up and indifference is quite the juxtaposition. That’s not how Vanja would break up with you.

Grab factor: Balkan ballad time!

Drag factor: Six songs since the last slowie. The Ballad Bog Break curse strikes again.

 

Slovenia: Lea Sirk – Hvala Ne

In an ideal world there’d be three songs this year that were glorious yells of female defiance. We’ve got Toy, we sadly missed out on O Malo and we’ve got the gem that is Hvala Ne. Thanks but no thanks, says Lea Sirk, flipping her hair and looking contemptuously at the patriarchy. Thanks but no thanks, she says, backed by her fierce posse of backing dancers who are definitely laughing at either your car, your genitalia or your shoes. Thanks but no thanks, she says to everyone who ever told her she was less than or that she couldn’t or that she didn’t know. Thanks and thanks again, I say to Lea as I roll down my car window and blast this out loud.

Grab factor: It makes me move in certain ways.

Drag factor: It’s a bit of a racket, let’s be honest. But that works for me.

 

Ukraine: Melovin – Under The Ladder 

And finally in the semi final line up we’ve got Melovin, who is in possession of several items that would be contraband if he were an audience member. But how could he be an audience member? The lad is clearly a star, playing up his mildly exotic heterochromism and dressing like he’s in an industrial hardcore band. The song reminds me of singing along to a Duran Duran song that I sort of know by osmosis from the original time of release, back in the 80s but that now I’m hearing on the radio. I’m trying to sing along but the words are coming out garbled. But I don’t care because it feels really good.

Grab factor: WOAH-OH-OH!

Drag factor: Does it actually sound like a half-remembered Duran Duran song?

 

 

Germany

I can’t slag this off because Michael and his songwriting team have constructed a touching ode to Michael’s departed father.

 

Grab factor: It’s full of the Sheeran Factor.

Drag factor: It’s full of the Sheeran Factor.

 

 

Italy

Meta e Moro is an interesting choice for Italy. They clearly know that they’ve got an important song that they want Europe to hear, but do they know that most of Europe will find that it has about 75% too many syllables per line? Are the rumoured on screen subtitles going to be enough to make it clear that this isn’t just two Italian men shouting tunefully about something, but that it’s another great comment on the horror and nonsensical conflicts of our time?

 

Grab factor: That’s a big chorus if you survive the word bombardment of the verses

Drag factor: The risk that no-one will know what this is about.

 

France

A truly lovely piece of storytelling which wrings the emotions out of you. The fact that it’s a true story and the children really are being lost to the cold, cold sea and that Iawio and Mercy did make it across adds so many extra dimensions to it. I think the French delegation have been very careful about finding the line where ‘explaining what the song is about’ and ‘political messaging’ lies and that because of this, the story of the song Mercy is somewhat distanced from the current struggles that displaced people face. There is an argument that the song would be more appropriate sung by someone who has experienced some of the traumas of having to escape their home, but there is also the argument that some parts of Europe would find it hard to vote for an artist who was a refugee, especially if they were a person of colour or a noticeably observant Muslim.

 

Last summer, I was talking with Lisa about who we would like to see representing various countries for the 2018 contest. We decided that we’d like to see Basalt represent Austria. They’re a trio of musicians originally from Syria who made new homes for themselves in Vienna. They collaborated with Conchita last summer on a subtle and delicate song called A Small House, which led to them being embroiled in a news story last summer when the UK Home Office failed to allow them permits to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival. We thought that maybe hooking Basalt up with a songwriting team to come up with a song that combined their sound with an anthemic, hooky chorus and that described their refugee experience in plain language might potentially do quite well at Eurovision. So it’s nice to see echoes of our imagined plan for Austria occurring in what France are actually doing!

 

Grab factor: It’s not really a question of if I start crying, it’s when.

Drag factor: First time listeners on Grand Final night will need to know what this is about. Maybe their local commentator will brief them. Maybe they won’t.

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