ESC 2019: Top Ten of Top Tens, Pt 5

Last year, Eurovision was full of memes. We had yeah yeah fire, Moldovan bedroom farce, Eugent clapping, and the whole thing was won by a heady memetic froth of maneki neko and chicken noises.

This year, who will generate the most meme power?

Top Ten Songs with Meme Potential

  1. Hatrið mun sigra – Hatari (Iceland): They’ve been memeing their way around since as long as they’ve been a band, and their Eurovision campaign has been dense with giffable moments and carefully constructed reaction pic moments. Look at them go. Woah.
  2. Spirit In The Sky – Keiino (Norway): Tom. Hugo’s. Wig. We can only pray sincerely that they bring the wigs to the big stage because that would set the whole confection of ridiculousness. And that Fred gets some antlers too.
  3. Say Na Na Na – Serhat (San Marino): Is Serhat himself 100% meme at this point?
  4. Friend of a Friend – Lake Malawi (Czech Republic): From ‘she was my neeeeeybaaah’ to ‘only a friend’ to the infinite cascade of ‘friend of a friend of a friend of a friend’ to the instagram themed official vid, they know their meme.
  5. Telemoveis – Conan Osiris (Portugal): You glue the spoons to your face.
  6. Bigger than Us – Michael Rice (UK): Not only is wee Ricey participating in his own rice-based memefication, but the call and response of bigger (BIGGER) is quite memey. I also have to report having seen the ‘It’s Coming Home’ meme being used.
  7. Zero Gravity – Kate Miller-Heidke (Australia): ok so she might be ditching the spikey high frock and the dementor, but I am sure they’ll produce something eye-popping and mind-bending.
  8. Look Away – Darude (Finland): He’s already a meme. He’s extremely online.
  9. Soldi – Mahmood (Italy): Come va? clap clap
  10. Palie Sie – Tulia (Poland): Their common press shot expression of stoic rage is memeworthy alone.

NOTABLE ABSENCES: Replay, She Got Me and Chameleon. Fuego was only Fuego because of the staging and the memetic value of the fabulous Eleni.

ESC 2019: Top Ten of Top Tens, Pt 4

A sad man up a pole

Never let it be said that I don’t have feelings. In fact, I like feelings and have on occasion experienced some of the most popular ones. Here are my Top Ten ESC 2019 songs that engage the valves of my emotion organ. <3

Top Ten Songs for Feelings

  1. Telemoveis – Conan Osiris (Portugal): Now if you want a 3 minute abstract musical about the alienation and loneliness of modern app-mediated life then here you go.
  2. Soldi – Mahmood (Italy): Because families are complicated and so are Mahmood’s feelings.
  3. Sebi – Zala & Gasper (Slovenia): Love is a feeling, right?
  4. Ktheju Tokes – Jonida Maliqi (Albania): This is HUGE and because it got selected so incredibly long ago I feel like everyone is overlooking it. Why wouldn’t beautifully sung portentous trip hop make you feel something?
  5. Zero Gravity – Kate Miller-Heidke (Australia): Because depression is a bastard, and this song sounds like when you realise you might be feeling better and you can do things again.
  6. Kruna – Nevena Bozovic (Serbia): I really respected the costume choices at Beovizija and I can get behind a classy ballad.
  7. Bigger Than Us – Michael Rice (UK): I really feel for poor doomed Mikey Rice. Protect him.
  8. Limits – Paenda (Austria): This is barely there as a record, all it is is emotion and a garnish of synths)
  9. Hatrið Mun Sigra – Hatari (Iceland): If love is a feeling, then hate is a feeling too. Although tbh this song makes me feel a lot more of the former than the latter.
  10. Arcade – Duncan Laurence (The Netherlands): The finest of this year’s emoting boys

(bubbling under: Joci Papai, John Ludvik, On a Sunday, Roi)

ESC 2019: Top Ten of Top Tens, Pt 3

It’s the weekend and my thoughts turn to love. Which of this year’s Eurovision contenders do I think set the most romantic mood?

Top Ten Songs for Romance

  1. Sebi – Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl (Slovenia): This is just a beautiful heartfelt moment for lovers everywhere. I am so glad we get to have it at Eurovision. It’s a mood, it’s an astral projection into a moment where it’s just the two of you.
  2. Hatrid mun sigra – Hatari (Iceland): Pants off, harnesses on, and away you go. Just make sure you’re not first cousins, please.
  3. Telemoveis – Conan Osiris (Portugal): Ok, so the song is actually quite sad, it’s about the essential loneliness of modern life as even our most intimate relationships become mediated by mobile phones. Put down your phone and look deep into your lover’s eyes. Feel the mutant fado move through your bodies.
  4. Replay – Tamta (Cyprus): My heart actually does beat like an 808 – it originated in the 1980s, it is still in use to this day and hopefully has a few more decades in it yet. But yes, this is quite sexy. Also the video contains FLAGRANT breaches of workshop and welding health and safety. Unacceptable.
  5. Better Love – Katerine Duska (Greece): Everyone deserves better love. Give it to each other.
  6. Friend of a Friend – Lake Malawi (Czech Republic): Ok, now this is going to get meta. You could be making looooove, with Lake Malawi asking you if you can hear the people next door at it too. Maybe you are the people next door? Maybe you’re only a friend. Can you make this song make any sense?
  7. That Night – Carousel (Latvia): This one has crept up on me. I never actually start my Eurovision playlist with it, but I am appreciating the tender coffee-shop country vibe. It’s lovely and sad.
  8. Limits – Paenda (Austria): It’s not quite the full Sebi, but it’s still got a nice romantic chill out vibe.
  9. Bigger Than Us/Too Late For Love – Mikey Rice/John Ludvik (UK/Sweden): Every young love affair needs a big rousing boy band ballad to be Your Song. This is a bit of a choose your own adventure. Will you take the one with the key change or the electric interchange with the backing singers? Will you take the slick popstar or the lad from down the market? It’s up to you.
  10. Heaven – D mol (Montenegro): Sometimes love is cheesy. It just is.

ESC 2019: Top Ten of Top Tens, Pt 2

I’m still none the wiser about who is going to win the big show in May, but I do like to dance. In today’s alternative Eurovision reviews, we are taking to the dancefloor and getting ready to shake it.

Top Ten Songs To Dance To

  1. Telemoveis – Conan Osiris (Portugal): Whether you dance like a sinuous djinn or like a crash test dummy falling down some stairs, this song wants you to move like you have never moved before. Be careful not to dislocate a hip, and don’t attempt the death drop without a warm up. I find the groove irresistable.
  2. Chameleon – Michaela Pace (Malta): I am always going to give it a go to the old pineapple-infused post-dancehall beat. Of this year’s Fuegalike contenders, this has the cheekiest drop. I like that drop a lot: it’s a bit like a very low swanny whistle and also has a cheek pop, just to assist with the bottom moving. The build to the final “Give me [noun], I’m a [noun]er” bridge is also smashing. Put it on Spotify though, babes?
  3. She Got Me – Luca Hänni (Switzerland): 2nd in our line-up of Fuegalikes. Suspect B has less of a post-dancehall theme in the verses, it doesn’t really kick off and make you wind your body until the pre-chorus. All our Fuegalikes have drops instead of choruses of course, but I think the ‘dirty dancing’ chant is probably the most chorus-like of our drops. If you get me.
  4. Replay – Tamta (Cyprus): Only just behind the other two Fuegalikes, and probably just because it’s less novel to me. I am ready to gie it laldy to this on any dancefloor you care to put me on.
  5. Spirit In The Sky – Keiino (Norway): Schlagerjoik was made for the dancefloor.
  6. Hatrid mun sigra – Hatari (Iceland):   When you and the rest of the Hatari cult are performing your 110bpm quasi-sexual gyrations, be very careful not to get tangled up in each other’s gear.
  7. La Venda – Miki (Spain): It’s not so much of a dance as a joyous pogo, but I’m there.
  8. Ktheju tokës – Jonida Maliqi (Albania): Dancing isn’t all slut drops and bum wiggles – sometimes you need a good old gothy waft. Jonida has that for you. Although I would imagine that the nightcore version would work even better. (I was right)
  9. Say Na Na Na – Serhat (San Marino): Sail away in the disco loving arms of our favourite Turkish light entertainer and Billboard Dance Chart superstar.
  10. Friend of a Friend – Lake Malawi (Czech Republic): If you’re dancing hard enough, you can hear neither the lyrics nor the accent.

Eurovision 2019 – The Top 10 of Top 10s

I’m having a bit of a problem with Eurovision this year. Well, I’m having a few problems with Eurovision this year but let us, for the moment, stick to the songs. My problem is this: at some point during national final season, I stopped caring. A bunch of internal selections were coming out all at once and I just ran out of damns to give.

My Eurovision season has probably already peaked. It peaked in a handball arena in Reykjavik where I and several thousand pre-teen Icelanders cheered Hatari to victory in Songvakeppnin. I have never before been somewhere that it felt like children might riot. It was really intense. I don’t think even the actual contest in May is going to be that good.

So, in an attempt to shake things up for myself I am changing my review criteria for this year and giving you ten Top 10 lists from the ESC 2019 songs. First up…

Top 10 ESC 2019 songs that sound good in the car:

  1. Hatrið mun Sigra – Hatari (Iceland): When I am driving and the first crunchy bits of intro synth start, I am immediately excited. Huh! It makes me feel like a really cool demon, even though I’m going home via Lidl and I’m wearing a corporate polo shirt. I feel like I’m wearing shades underneath my skin. I feel empowered and a bit naughty. I feel like my Honda Jazz might suddenly sprout spikes and prongs and I might be able to go all Mad Max as I cruise majestically across the Erskine Bridge.
  2. La Venda – Miki (Spain): Here mainly because yelling ‘LO QUE ERE-ERE-EH feels very, very good indeed. And also it’s helping me with my Spanish pronunciation.
  3. Soldi – Mahmood (Italy): This is such a cool, cool song. For some reason the bass on the version on Spotify has immense, immense presence. It’s not the best Eurovision related song for bass; that would have to be Vidlik by Onuka – the ravey 2017 interval act – which makes all the plastic trim on the dashboard rattle and the windows vibrate. Soldi is not quite that, but it’s close.
  4. Zero Gravity – Kate Miller-Heidke (Australia): In the car, no-one can hear you doing the opera bits. Right? Plus, as I fail to avoid the potholes on the dissolving road surface of Byres Road, I get the e-e-e-e- bits just right.
  5. Ktheju Tokes – Jonida Maliki (Albania): I love a bit of portentous wailing and huge bass, so this is a surefire, mystical hit.
  6. Spirit In The Sky – Keiino (Norway): You had better believe that I joik along with gusto and chant He lå he loi la with reckless abandon.
  7. Better Love – Katrina Duska (Greece): It’s expansive, positive, and contains some excellent hooting vocals, which are well suited for the car.
  8. Replay – Tamta (Cyprus): That fuego beat is great for chair dancing, and I love the great, great line ‘Heart beats like an 808’. As you drive along, ponder what happened to the rule about not mentioning specific commercial products. Then forget it. Jon Ola did, so you can too.
  9. Say Na Na Na – Serhat (San Marino): This blast of positivity from Serhat will help you on your way wherever you are going.
  10. Sebi – Zala & Gasper (Slovenia): Not all driving needs to be the sharp-elbowed horror of commuting down a motorway. This is a late night drive with your sweetie, and you’re almost home.

Bonus songs conspicuously absent from the Top 10:

  • Michaela Pace’s Chameleon, which they have managed to not put on Spotify yet and no-one commutes with YouTube on, Malta.
  • Siren Song, because Ukraine.

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?




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.




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.



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.

Eurovision 2018 – Semi Final 1 Reviews

You might notice that these reviews are terribly, terribly late this year. Normally I write them about the time of the Head of Delegations meeting. That was over a month ago now, and I’m actually finishing these off on the plane to Lisbon, where we’re going to settle the matter of which of these songs is the most universal.

That’s the realisation I’ve come to in the months between this contest and the last one. We’re not rewarding songwriting excellence, vocal technique, PR campaigns or innovative staging, we’re rewarding the song that is able to make the most people feel something. All the elements above can help to make your performance into something that makes people feel something, but they’re all useless without that moment of emotional connection.

So when you’re listening, listen with your heart.

Here’s your handy dandy video playlist. Let’s begin.

Azerbaijan: AISEL – X My Heart

Daft as you like, nicely executed template dance-pop like you’d expect from a cash-rich, pop-scene-poor nation like Azerbaijan. They’ve gone further down the template road this year by getting the producer of 2017 zeitgeisty fave City Lights to give the thing a reswizzle. No amount of atmospheric synths can hide that this isn’t Dihaj getting conceptual with a besuited centaur up a ladder. Both of which would be banned this year.

Grab factor: Staging might be ace, hooks a-plenty. Silly lyrics work in it’s favour, strangely.

Drag factor: The total lack of originality except with the deployment of Standard Pop English.

Iceland: Ari Olafsson – Our Choice

What happened, Iceland? Where is the weird small nation that innovates through the cold dark winter months and brings us treats? What is this inspirational song from a lost 90’s devotional film? What is lovely Ari Olafsson doing fronting this? Why?

Grab factor: Ari is a darling. I would love for him to have a much grabbier song.

Drag factor: The song, sadly

Albania: Eugent Bushpepa – Mall

I spend the first couple of months of every year trying not to listen to the song that won Festival I Kenges because I know that whatever they’ve picked in December won’t be the thing that makes it to stage in May. Except this year, it sort of is. Mall is the 3 minute cut of Eugent’s stirring, driving 4:30 minutes of yearning for his distant girlfriend. It’s entirely in Albanian and the language of passion. It’s good. It might even qualify.

Grab factor: Oof, this is nice.

Drag factor: 12/8 heartfelt rock rock ballads might be jarring for the Tuesday night crowd.


Belgium: SENNEK – A Matter Of Time

In which an IKEA visual merchandiser rearranges some mid-priced home furnishings just so and comes up with a lush, slightly nihilistic Bond theme about the dying ebbs of a relationship. Sennek has troubled some with her vocal performances during the preview party circuit, but I’m sure it’ll be alright on the night. Not sure it’s a winner, even performed to perfection.

Grab factor: It sounds reassuringly expensive, and everyone loves a Bond theme.

Drag factor: Does everyone actually love a Bond theme? Can Sennek give us the full majesty of her vocal range?

Czech Republic: Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me

Before I saw Mikolas deliver this live with playback at London Eurovision Party, it was down in my 40s in my rankings, but now I grudgingly admit that a) it’s a bop b) he can sell it and c) he’s a very charming and determined young artist with what it takes to become a major pop star. The lyrics are a total shambles of slut-shaming and grossly biological imagery, but apparently no-one takes lyrics seriously these days and I should calm down. Apparently.

Grab factor: That trumpet hook. Oh my word.

Drag factor: Can Mikolas, his backpack and two his mates fill the stage?


Lithuania: Ieva Zasimauskiate – When We’re Old

This will probably mark my first little blub of rehearsal season when I see it on stage in Lisbon. It’s such a …married… song and I am a married lady who’ll be missing her other half. Ieva’s delivery is so natural and delicate, like a soap bubble on some forest moss, that I expect it to disappear at any moment. It will seem even more tiny and precious between the brass of Czechia and the awesome stomp of Israel.

Grab factor: Shh, I want to listen to the forest nymph singing!

Drag factor: People may go ‘TOO SLOW’ and make a cuppa.


Israel: Netta Barzilai – Toy

Toy was the song in the pre-season that I had to make a determined effort to stop listening to, because I wanted to preserve the mad rush that it made me feel when I first heard it. I first heard it, muffled and crappy, on someone’s phone in Norway. I heard it for the second time via a leak on twitter. For the 3rd through 100th times, I heard it on constant repeat in my actual brain. Then I had to give it a rest. It makes me dance, it gives me attitude and I am so glad that we’ve got Netta in the Eurovision family. I am starting to think that it won’t win, but I would be happy if it does.

Grab factor: Constructed entirely from things that could potentially grab people by the eyeballs, earlobes and brainstem.

Drag factor: We keep saying that a fun time pop record ought to win Eurovision. But will it? Have we as a continent decided that we only give the title to worthy stuff nowadays? Will this look a mess on stage?


Belarus: Alekseev – Forever

I heard many versions of Forever before Alekseev settled on this one. They all sounded similar. It’s a ballad with unsettling minor undertones and the kind of sentiments that a supervillain might espouse to a captive superhero – you’ll be mine forever! In his national final he became his own LED screen, in a custom pair of electrical pyjamas. I would like to make some of those, they sound like a fun arduino project.

Grab factor: Apparently the lad is famous.

Drag factor: There have been poor vocal performances of it, and to be honest for me it really lacks a point of connection.


Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza

It’s not so much a song as a series of Verdi aria titles arranged to fit a loose rhyme scheme, a showcase for Elina’s luminous but icy cold beauty, an incredible bit of projection mapping and a festival of many of the best notes that live above the stave. It is notably straight faced and lacking in camp, although the Eesti Laul performance in which the hosts did her post-performance interview by poking a mic on a big stick up at her on the podium was a delight. I don’t know whether playing this as a straight art piece is going to work but I don’t care because I think it’s beautiful just the way it is.

Grab factor: An alien beauty shatters the wine glass of your mind with fractal zoom videos. That’s not your average Tuesday night.

Drag factor: Received wisdom is that Eurovision doesn’t actually like the operatics that much.


Bulgaria: Equinox – Bones

Launched amidst a cloud of rumour, Equinox brings together some very interesting voices. Bringing the high, clear tones of Johnny Manuel into contrast with the earthy howl of Zhana Bergendorff and the deep soul vocal of Trey Campbell is fascinating. The vocal blend sounds like they’ve been a band for years, rather than months. For me, the studio version of the song is like a chilly blast from another dimension but the live version, seeing the ebb and flow between the performers gives it the warmth and human connection needed. Hugely impressive.

Grab factor: Incredibly dramatic.

Drag factor: The fact that it’s a construct might turn off people who have been instructed that this year is all about authenticity.


Macedonia: Eye Cue – Lost and Found

Lost and Found is like someone trying to remember how to play Out of Space by the Prodigy from memory, without the proper equipment. A chunky pop sandwich with a delicious reggae filling and delightful garnishes of vocal ad libs. There is potential for a staging catastrophe, which I sincerely hope they avoid. I really like it, but I worry for it.

Grab factor: Buy one song; get another song and a half for free! Also, the bit where the ‘HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT IT?’ kicks in.

Drag factor: Frankensteined songs unsettle audiences, which are timid and fear change.


Croatia: Franka B – Crazy

I like a bit of R&B swing, I like a song that goes ba-ba-ba-da-bah, I like a totally fruity spoken word interlude and I like a tone of slight sexual insanity in a pop song. Then why do I keep forgetting that Franka will be in Semi 1?

Grab factor: Camp British RP spoken word section, yes PLEASE.

Drag factor: Less exciting than the previous three songs and less exciting than two of the 3 songs that will follow it.


Austria: César Sampson – Nobody But You

Handsome Cesar is only three days older than I am, and I think we’ve both packed a lot of incident into our 34 years on the planet. Austria seem to be very happy to be the Eurovision nation that provides a very affable, very friendly performer with a pleasant and positive song that you’d have to be a terrible churl to not want to qualify. Like Running On Air, I didn’t quite click with Nobody But You on first listen, but then as the playlist went round, I found that this was the one where I was hollering along with the backing vocalists as I drove along the M8 to work.

Grab factor: Handsome and polite man sings song of high quality.

Drag factor: Lacks razzamatazz.


Greece: Yianna Terzi – Oniro Mou

I did this one on Juke Box Jury back in March (the one in Norway where we’d had a couple of light ales before the recording) and my sentiments remain the same. It’s very pleasant indeed, it’s a bit of the old Enya gone Hellenic vibe but and I would appreciate getting a massage or some form of spiritual energy treatment whilst listening to it. In terms of Eurovision qualification? Man I have no idea. It’s going to need a full five kitchen sink stage production and vocals that turn spines to quivering jelly.

Grab factor: Guaranteed to align your chakras

Drag factor: As your cares and stresses melt away, so does any way of distinguishing the verse bit from the chorus.


Finland: Saara Aalto – Monsters

I love Saara but I worry that she isn’t the one driving the bus on this. Instead of the knowing winks, high quality showwomanship and total commitment to the Eurovision dream that I was expecting, we seem to have Saara being controlled by people who have a very British view of Eurovision and want her on giant props, singing upside down and cramming a decade’s worth of staging ideas into her 3 minutes. I wish she was going to be belting out Domino in what amounts to a gold version of the Dami Im gown from 2016, but it is what it is. Monsters is fine, but instead of something precious she’s going to be giving us something that’s So Eurovision. Oh well.

Grab factor: Saara’s charisma and big vocals.

Drag factor: They’re going to do something hideous on stage and I will have to watch through my fingers.


Armenia – Sevak Kanaghyan – Qami

Fair play Armenia, this is a very solid man ballad delivered by a very solid bear of a man in a very solid leather jerkin. Doesn’t really fit with the ‘Beautiful Armenian Queens of Folk Influenced Caucasus Pop’ vibe that they’ve had for the past couple of years but whatever. Not sure it will qualify, but it’s a pleasure to listen to Sevak interpret this with such passion.

Grab factor: Armenian sounds so beautiful when sung with such passion and power.

Drag factor: It’s been 10 songs since Lithuania. If the viewers with short attention spans didn’t go and refresh the drinks during Austria, they’re going to do it now.


Switzerland: ZIBBS – Stones

Poor old Zibbs. They’re the best that Switzerland has sent since Sebalter but I worry that’s not going to be enough. Coco and Ste are really lovely, engaging folk but that doesn’t get you points. Stones is a message about rejecting the reactionary fears and hatreds of the older ruling generation, but will being quite good be enough when you’re surrounded by great stuff?

Grab factor: You can sing along with it basically from the end of the first verse.

Drag factor: You can sing along with it basically from the end of the first verse.


Ireland: Ryan O’Shaughnessy – Together

Dammit. I get to posting this set of reviews and I find that I didn’t actually review Ireland but instead got excited and proceeded directly to Cyprus. What a shame, because Ryan is such a lovely dude with a winning attitude (literally – he’s been talking about winning this year) and I want Ireland to rediscover their Eurovision mojo. But I have only two thoughts when I hear Together. 1) Wow, this song is such a downer and 2) We could have had John Lydon instead and that would have been really fun.

Grab factor: Ryan’s vocals are really sweet and strong, and he’s a big fan of a zip up high neck training top.

Drag factor: I just entirely forgot to review this song.


Cyprus: Eleni Foureria – Fuego

FUEGO. I have had the entire concept of pineapples ruined for me by this song. Or possibly enhanced. You see, Eleni’s pop video was sponsored by a major pineapple consortium and now whenever I see a pineapple or general bromeliad imagery my mind goes FUEGO. I am writing this review in a t-shirt with a pineapple on it because of this song. All I see, hear and think about becomes pineapple. FUEGO.

Grab factor: Uptempo song with dancy bits and a game attempt at a pop drop? Yes sir, we can boogie.

Drag factor: No-one will ever truly understand my pineapple jokes.

So that was all of the competing acts for the first semi. In a slight change to my usual format, here are the automatic qualifiers that will be voting in Semi Final 1.

Portugal: Claudia Pascoal – O Jardim

The nonchalantly gorgeous Claudia Pascoal and composer Isaura perform this beautiful song about bereavement as a solo that is sort of a duet. We’ve got three contrasting songs about the death of family members this year – this one has Isaura and Claudia promising to tend the literal and metaphorical garden of their departed relative. It’s gorgeous, subtle and incredibly chill. It’s not so much a lovely horse as a shimmering, dignified unicorn.

Grab factor: Timeless beauty, presence and stillness.

Drag factor: You get the feeling that Portugal still don’t understand how or why they won last year so they’re going to continue to be Maximum Portugal as if nothing ever happened.


UK: SuRie – Storm

For the second year running, we’ve got a top notch performer who is definitely going to give the material their best possible shot. For the, um, 8th year running we’ve got a song that sounds bafflingly like it was written specifically with basic ESOL vocabulary in mind, by someone fulfilling a very tightly written brief. Storm doesn’t have the courage to go full Clean Bandit like it really ought and consequently ambles along pleasantly but will likely not trouble the scorers too much.

Grab factor: All hail SuRie, queen of twitter and this year’s instagram champion.

Drag factor: Why do we keep sending songs that are the lyrical equivalent of TALKING SLOWLY AND LOUDLY WHEN ABROAD?

Spain: Alfred and Amaia – Tu Canción

Oh bless Amaia. Bless Alfred too, for trying to keep up with her soaring, emotive voice. Bless young love and bless the first time a young man realises how truly awesome women can be when you know them, are friends with them and love them. When they won the Lisbon ticket on the strength of their romance whilst cooped up in the Operation Triunfo house, I had ethical worries about the pressure placed on their fledgling relationship by the passion of Spanish Eurofandom. But they seem happy enough, and Tu Cancion is as sweet and sweeping as you’d imagine a duet about the first time you really fall for someone to be. I am glad I’m writing this review on the plane to Lisbon. If I’d written it in March, I might have been a bit more salty.

Grab factor: True love is beautiful, people.

Drag factor: True love is also gross and slightly annoying.


Curtain Up On Eurovision 2018 – A Tale of Two Idas

We’re starting to see the first few national final line-ups for Lisbon 2018, and there is a bit of Listen Outside interest scattered all over the contest. Let’s take a tour. Let’s start with the ScandiNordics.

In Sweden, Ida Redig  will be taking part in Melodifestivalen. We were obsessed with her Swedish-language pop which sounds like stripped-back Italo house, complete with breathy vocals. It’s unlikely she’ll wrestle the ticket to Lisbon out of the hands of Liamoo or Mariette, but it’s lovely to see someone new and this exciting come through Christer Bjorkman’s neo-schlager factory.

Next door in Norway, it’s not been confirmed yet, but we’re expecting Ida Maria to be participating in Melodi Grand Prix. Last year, she was the songwriter for Mama’s Boy -a piece of sexually assertive uptempo pop with the melodic hookiness you’d recognise if you were a fan of Ida’s first album Fortress Round My Heart. Her style has also encompassed roots and acoustic blues, but last summer she popped out a beautifully mellow and melancholic song called You. I love the vocal mellotron effect on the harmonies.

Over in Estonia, there is plenty to get excited about in Eesti Laul. Perennial Listen Outside faves Frankie Animal have brought the deeply slinky and sophisticated (Can’t Keep Calling) Misty which makes me want to turn up the collar on my trenchcoat and disappear into the fog under a gaslamp after breaking someone’s helpless heart.

We’re also going to be treated to a song by Iiris (whose recent single Stranger was one of my sounds of the summer) and Ago called Drop The Boogie which I’m expecting to be a shimmering dancefloor confection.  New to me, but no less thrilling is Sybil Vane and they’re as sexy and thematically dark as you’d imagine a band named after an Oscar Wilde character to be. Their song Thousand Words isn’t out at time of writing, but gosh, give me some of that noir.

In other intriguing Estonian prospects, Girls In Pearls bring lush pop (also, they are twins), Evestus have industrial new wave type stuff, there shall be various pop tracks, some rough naughty hip-hop, a dollop of ambient dubstep and some guy named Stig.

We already know that Finland are totally spoiling us by bringing Saara Aalto to the party, with presumably a huge stage production and an epic power ballad banger hybrid, which the 100 year old nation will select on March 3rd.

That just leaves Denmark (about which I’m none the wiser) and Iceland. So far there haven’t been any rumours about participants in Songvakeppnin, but I am pretty sure there’ll be something almost almost as good as Is This Love?

Next up: an in-depth look at the Latvia Supernova semi-finalists and some rending of garments over songs already lost to their process.

Eurovision 2017: Grand Final Preview + Stats

Find the 1st Semi Final and 2nd Semi Final previews at the links. As before, the Grand Final post will also contain some graphs looking at the overall trends this year.

France: Alma – Requiem

It’s as French as it could possibly be, even with the slightly weird addition of English lyrics in a couple of the choruses. The combination of the politely bump & grind rhythm with dramatic tango strings and Alma’s sexy vocals is superb. This deserves to do really well. I hope the staging includes the two tango dancers, but that might be because I moonlight as a Strictly Come Dancing podcaster in the Eurovision off-season.

Whether or not something this intensely French will win the contest or not is kind of beside the point – the French delegation are mainly interested in building up the contest as a platform that works well with the French pop industry. A win might come one day.

Grab factor: The romance of it all! The tango strings!

Drag factor: I can’t think of anything at all, honestly. It’s insouciant and lovely. Enjoy it!

Germany: Levina – Perfect Life

So the German national final program was a mess. So they made Levina sing about a dozen times over the course of three baffling hours of light entertainment. So they misattributed Robyn’s Dancing On My Own to the sad piano cover man. So what. They’ve ended up with a perfectly serviceable chart pop song with a much discussed tinge of Sia about it. It’ll go down nicely, especially with people who aren’t in the usual Eurovision bubble. I don’t think it’s competing for last place, even though there’s nothing except the false sense of familiarity and Levina’s strong vocal to prompt you to vote for it.

Grab factor: Wait, haven’t I heard this before?

Drag factor: No dynamic variation at all

Italy: Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma

Continuing our question ‘What is a novelty hit?’ we examine a wordy, complex song with a double chorus structure about the philosophical drought at the heart of the modern Western condition. Also, there is a good bit with a gorilla.

Immediately after San Remo, this song seemed laughably unassailable. No-one could beat the bloody gorilla. The fact that it works on multiple levels for multiple audiences, and has been considered as an artistic whole makes it really strong. The gorilla provides that call to arms that makes people pick up the phone and vote.

Whether or not the brutal excision of the second verse will affect how it goes down with the people hearing it for the first time, well, we’ll have to wait and see because everyone in ESC fandom seems to have played it to absolute death already. If it’s a winner, it’s an interesting winner. If it’s not our winner, then we’ve got a basically uncallable competition, which is terribly exciting.

Grab factor: There are several jumping on points throughout the song. It won’t have problems getting eyeballs.

Drag factor: Perhaps the ESC version of this song has a less favourable verse to chorus ratio?

Spain: Manel Navarro – Do It For Your Lover

If Ed Sheeran was Spanish and the beach bars he plied his trade in were on the Costas rather than the English Riviera, this is what would be clogging up the UK charts right now.

To be honest, the protracted and undignified shenanigans surrounding the Spanish selection has clouded my judgement of this inoffensive and indistinctly sung ditty. I suspect I’d have been more forgiving of the jury nobbling of the televote if it was a total masterpiece. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s light, summery and will probably sound quite nice on the Saturday night.

Grab factor: You can’t go wrong with a snappy reggae style guitar chord riff.

Drag factor: Does seem like it might be going on for more than 3 minutes.

UK: Lucie Jones – Never Give Up On You

I nearly forgot to review this one. Oops. The UK was given the choice of some blandly positive competent pop songs sung by a variety of singers, the strongest of whom is our Lucie – a West End regular who brings a massive mooing following of Rentheads.

The song, by 2013 Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest is a lovely heartfelt ballad which has been given the full Sanna Nielsen production treatment. It’s pretty, it’s nice and it’s the kind of song that would do very well with Lucie alone in a pin spot on the satellite stage.

Grab factor: Lucie acts and sings extremely well, this should be eye-catching.

Drag factor: The UK delegation will doubtless come up with something to counteract the general goodness of this.

Ukraine: O.Torvalds – Time

It is very, very odd that O.Torvalds are doing Eurovision. It’s a bit like Biffy Clyro representing the UK or Opeth somehow winning Melodifestivalen. It at least guarantees they won’t be hosting two years running? And it gives us our token rock act, but I’ve still no clear idea how or why it happened.

The staging with the rubble piles, the fire jets and the prosthetic countdown clocks is incredibly striking, but definitely a bit much for a pop audience on a family show. Metal audiences have been enjoying extreme imagery like this for a long time, but it’s really scraping the boundaries of the standards and practices office. At least they were prevented from bringing the even more horrific gunshot version…

Grab factor: You’ll either be grabbed by the sudden appearance of something adjacent to rock music or you’ll be looking for the borders of the latex clock prosthetics.

Drag factor:  If it’s not your thing, there’s nothing for you here.

The Stats

Who is singing at Eurovision? Once more, Eurovision is very much a soloists game. The solo female percentage has actually come down a little from last year, when it was 51% and the solo male percentage has remained basically static. The big difference is our 5 duos, increasing the duo percentage from 2016’s 2% to this year’s 12%.

How fast is Eurovision? Let’s put our 2016 and 2017 tempo histograms next to one another. In 2016 we had a lot of songs that came in above 120 bpm, probably because the winner the previous year was Heroes, which came in at 124 bpm. This year, the tempo has noticeably slowed and we’ve got the majority of our songs sitting at a ballad-friendly 100 bpm. This doesn’t really square with my ‘last years winner’ factor, because 1944 was 120 bpm. Eurovision: there is no pattern.






What are people singing at Eurovision? They’re singing ballads, they’re singing nice pop songs and they’re singing mid-tempo inspirational radio songs. Would love to see that Folk Pop segment getting a bit bigger!

What language are people singing in at Eurovision? They’re largely singing in English. We’re at 88.4% English language, up from 83.3% last year.

I haven’t calculated the average number of Swedish songwriters per song yet, because I’ve got a life (this year). Last year it was 0.44.

Eurovision 2017 – Semi Final 2 Preview Post

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.


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.