Fireside 2.1 ( The EuroWhat? Podcast Blog Thu, 10 May 2018 12:00:00 -0500 The EuroWhat? Podcast Blog en-us Eurovision 2018 Second Semi-Final Predictions Thu, 10 May 2018 12:00:00 -0500 c7a31113-ae0e-40df-b13e-68423a22ef7d The second semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest takes place Thursday, May 10 in Lisbon, Portugal. Will we go 10-for-10 in our guesses for who will qualify? Or will there be just as many surprises as Tuesday's show? The second semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest takes place Thursday, May 10 in Lisbon, Portugal. Will we go 10-for-10 in our guesses for who will qualify? Or will there be just as many surprises as Tuesday's show?

After much number-crunching, YouTube watching, head scratching, dart throwing, and on-air disagreements, we have finally compiled our data and made our prediction for which ten acts we think will advance out of the second semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.

The 10 acts that we think will advance, presented in alphabetical order, are:

  • Australia
  • Denmark
  • Hungary
  • Moldova
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Slovenia
  • Sweden
  • Ukraine

Let's talk about our confidence levels, shall we?

Australia, Norway, and Sweden landed in the top 10 across all metrics we use to compile our final prediction. We love them, the oddsmakers love them, and folks on YouTube love them. That's full consensus in our mind. Although Greece also shared that full consensus on Tuesday (oops), Norway and Sweden did go through a vetting process and Australia has been part of public performances through the international pre-parties.

Ukraine also seems like a safe bet, having ranked 11 in only one of our metrics and placing top 10 in the rest. Also, as the closer in the running order, there's a strong chance that positioning will offer a boost.

Everyone else is, well, a giant shrug emoji. There's a fair amount of uncertainty after Tuesday's semi-final with surprise qualifications from Albania, Ireland, and Lithuania. Perhaps Hungary's hard rock entry isn't a tough sell? Moldova's performance may be delightful, but maybe it's masking an otherwise average song? And maybe Russia's Gonna Russia and sneak into Saturday's final?((Russia is only 2 points from making our top 10.))

We'll find out the results at the end of the second semi-final, which takes place today at 21:00 CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific, live from Lisbon, Portugal.

Eurovision 2018 First Semi-Final Predictions Tue, 08 May 2018 11:00:00 -0500 7d052179-9b48-4074-a5cd-9475b23c4dc5 The first semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest takes place Tuesday, May 8 in Lisbon, Portugal. Will we go 10-for-10 in our guesses for who will qualify? The first semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest takes place Tuesday, May 8 in Lisbon, Portugal. Will we go 10-for-10 in our guesses for who will qualify?

After much number-crunching, YouTube watching, head scratching, and on-air disagreements, we have finally compiled our data and made our prediction for which ten acts we think will advance out of the first semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest.

The 10 acts that we think will advance, presented in alphabetical order, are:

  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Israel

Let's talk about our confidence levels, shall we?

Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, and Israel landed in the top 10 across all metrics we use to compile our final prediction. We love them, the oddsmakers love them, and folks on YouTube love them. That's full consensus in our mind.

Austria, Bulgaria, and Finland are a little iffy, but we still feel pretty confident about those countries advancing. Austria's rehearsal footage didn't reveal much beyond a strong vocal, so we're hoping there are some visual surprises in the broadcast to push the entry into qualifying. On the flipside, Finland has been improving in our scores since rehearsal footage came out, so the iffy-ness comes from our pre-rehearsal scores. Bulgaria should be fine, though one of our metrics had the song as #11 (it'll be fine... right?).

Azerbaijan and Belgium are our bubble entries to qualify. Azerbaijan has been hovering around 10 across all of our metrics throughout the season. Though the rehearsal footage looked impressive, going first in the running order of an incredibly competitive semi-final will make Azerbaijan's job more difficult. Could the country's perfect qualifying streak come to an end Tuesday?

Belgium has been slipping throughout rehearsals. Mike is the only panelist to still have the song in his top 10 and the oddsmakers have cooled on the entry as well. Belgium's recent hot streak is in trouble, and this is the entry we are least confident about.

We'll find out the results at the end of the first semi-final, which takes place today at 21:00 CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific, live from Lisbon, Portugal.

First Listen: Albania's Eugent Bushpepa takes "Mall" to Lisbon Thu, 28 Dec 2017 06:00:00 -0600 cd639309-ce99-4c21-a525-6f656dde3e11 ""Mall" by Eugent Bushpepa has started the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest selection season on a good note, with an entry that could bring Albania some success in Portugal.

Albania's Eurovision Song Contest selection process Festivali i Këngës took place in the lead up to Christmas, with Eugent Bushpepa's song "Mall" claiming top honors at the competition. This year's process featured 22 contestants competing across two semi-finals, with 14 advancing to a grand final on Saturday, December 23. Unlike last year, the audience had no vote and the winner was determined by a five-person jury. After much, much, much deliberation((I was driving from Chicago to Detroit at the time, joking that I could probably get to my mom's house before a winner was determined. Had we not stopped for food or potty breaks, we might have been able to achieve that goal.)), Bushpepa earned the right to represent Albania in Lisbon next May.

Although there was no audience vote, the process did seem to correlate with YouTube views of the entries. Of the eight entries that advanced from the first semi-final, the top seven entries based on views advanced (though the eighth spot went to the least-watched video of the entire field). The second semi-final had similar results, with five of the six qualifiers ranked at the top of the YouTube field. "Divorci" was the only one to miss the cut, with seventh-place "Zemër ku je" by Denisa Gjezo taking the sixth spot.

The grand final only revealed the top three entries, which went to "Piedestal" by Inis Neziri, "Ekziston" by Redon Makashi, and winner "Mall" by Eugent Bushpepa. Although broadcaster RTSH explicitly said YouTube was not being used as a voting mechanism, the evidence seems to suggest that it was at least a consideration in the final decision.

So, here's the winning entry, as performed on Saturday's final:

This entry is a departure from what Albania has been sending to Eurovision the last few years, with greater accessibility for audiences than 2016's inscrutable "Fairytale" or last year's FFIX cosplay adventure "World".((To be clear, I loved "World" because it was an FFIX cosplay adventure and I'm still not sure why Europe was not on board allllll the airships.)) However, there are a number of potential pitfalls that could sink "Mall" if Albania and Eugent Bushpepa aren't careful:

  • English or Albanian? Eurovoix has reported that "Mall" will remain in Albanian, and I think that's the right decision. According to the article, Eugent Bushpepa says the current lyrics match the melody of the song, so trying to recreate that with an English translation is more effort than it's worth. Given how successful non-English and non-full-English entries have been the last few years (e.g. the winners of 2016 and 2017), I would love it if Eurovision 2018 was a multi-lingual celebration.
  • Get the scissors... because this entry will need to be cut down. Close to 80 seconds will need to be removed to be Eurovision-compliant. The intro could be trimmed without too much trouble, as well as the transitions. My fear is that this may go through an edit similar to what happened with "Occidentali's Karma" last year, where the second verse is eliminated even though that's where the most interesting song elements are happening. Equally problematic would be if all the gaps are cut out, creating a song that isn't allowed to breathe (e.g. France 2016 and 2017). However "Mall" gets abridged, at least it shouldn't multiply the degree of difficulty too much.((Oh hai "Suus".))
  • Stage presentation. To be fair, the nature of FiK doesn't allow for elaborate performances like you would see on Sweden's Melodifestivalen or local versions of The X Factor. However, eyes shouldn't be closed throughout the first verse and the visual display could be much more interesting and less screensaver-y. I presume this performance went over very well for the audience in the auditorium, but as a television performance "Mall" could have been more engaging. Since translation probably won't be part of the equation this year, I hope that energy is instead placed in art direction.

Overall, I'm intrigued by what this entry has to offer and I think it sets a solid benchmark for the rest of the field for Eurovision 2018. Good luck, Albania!"

Albania's Festivali i Kenges 56 kicks off selection season 2018 Wed, 20 Dec 2017 09:00:00 -0600 3f107e86-e17a-4a0d-afd6-5e67b1a05561 "Albania once again knows what we want for Christmas: the 56th edition of the Festivali i Këngës song competition which starts the Eurovision 2018 national final season. What does this year's festival have in store?<!--more-->

Albania's Festivali i Këngës, now in its 56th year, has been the country's Eurovision Song Contest selection process since entering the competition in 2004. On the one hand, it makes sense that a national song competition that already exists would be an efficient way to select for Eurovision. However, there are some drawbacks:

  • FiK happens at a time of year that doesn't correlate to success at Eurovision. Albania is generally the first to select for the following year's Eurovision Song Contest, not by strategy but because that's when the song festival happens.
  • The song qualifications for FiK are not as strict as Eurovision's. Songs can be up to four minutes long, political content is not outright discouraged, and there will be more than six people on stage because the songs are performed by a live orchestra. This forces rewrites and re-arrangements every year, which could compromise the original quality of the song.((See Italy 2017 and France 2016 for similar problems.))
  • How a winner is determined isn't great. Prior to 2017, the winner was determined solely by jury and without any transparency about scoring. Also, with the semi-final not always culling a large field((The 2015 edition had 30 songs cut down to 22, for example)), the vote spread gets a little thin. Last year's edition included viewer voting in the final for the first time, but that vote ended up being inconsequential. It counted for 1/13th of an entrant's final score, though points were only awarded to the top seven. Lindita Halimi's "Boje" had the competition locked up before the viewers weighed in.

This year's Festivali i Këngës will feature 22 songs. The first semi-final will be held Thursday, December 21 and the second will be held Friday, December 22. Although specifics have not been announced, expect anywhere from 12 to 16 of those songs to advance to the final on Saturday, December 23. All 22 entries are available on Albanian broadcaster RTSH's YouTube page if you want to check them out before the competition. You can watch the competition live on the RTSH FiK website. Shows should start at 2 pm Eastern all three days.

Here are the entries to keep an eye on:

Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" ("Yearning")

This entry is the current favorite based on YouTube views, and I can understand why. The track reminds me of Belarus's journey of joy in this year's Contest, as well as Malta's entry from 2014. This would also be a departure from the female, power pop, melisma factories we've been subjected to since 2014 which has not been all that successful at the Contest. The first performance will be during Thursday's semi-final.

Inis Neziri - "Piedestal" ("Pedestal")

This song is in second place in YouTube views, and is exactly what I mean when I say "melisma factory." It's not a bad song, per se, but if Albania wants to find success at Eurovision they may want to consider not send such a Eurovision-y entry. Expect Inis Neziri to advance out of Friday's semi-final.

Voltan Prodani - "E Pamundur" ("Impossible")

This song is currently sitting at the bottom of the list in terms of YouTube views. I'll be curious to hear how this plays on stage with an orchestra, though I can understand why this may not have captured the public's attention.

Akullthyesit - "Divorc" ("Divorce")

I am fascinated by this entry. My initial reaction when I saw the title pop up was "surely that's not a cognate," only to get yelled at by a guy with a bullhorn about 30 seconds while I confirmed with Google Translate that divorc and divorce are one and the same.((The duo's name translates to "icebreakers," which seems accurate, what with the bullhorn and all.)) This would certainly be an unexpected entry at Eurovision were it to win FiK, and I think I'm here for that possibility? As of this writing, the song is sixth in YouTube views and could resonate with the jury if the mood is just right?"

Broadway in Boston is "Waiting for This Night" Mon, 12 Jun 2017 01:00:00 -0500 18bbd7f8-4afe-44cd-b506-ab395d1eb7a6 "Something sounds familiar in a recent Broadway in Boston ad...

Hat tip to Ben for spotting this one during Sunday's broadcast of the The Tony Awards:

That's a pretty impressive lineup hitting Beantown next year. Oh, and did you catch the song in the background? That would be a cover of Lithuania's 2016 entry "I've Been Waiting for This Night" by Donny Montell. Kinda random, kinda awesome."

Throwback Thursday: "Refrain" (1956) Thu, 01 Jun 2017 05:00:00 -0500 94dba33b-ee1c-4694-b9a9-52ed32e2aea9 "As we look forward to the next edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, let's take a look back at how all the craziness began.


Song Title: "Refrain"
Artist: Lys Assia
Country: Switzerland
Year: 1956

Back in the mid-1950s, the European Broadcasting Union wanted to test out the live capabilities of television and radio across Europe. Italy's Sanremo Music Festival, which began in 1951, was instantly popular and had a format that seemed adaptable for an international audience.

This led to the first iteration of what became known as the Eurovision Song Contest. In 1956, representatives from seven countries gathered in Lugano, Switzerland to present a total of 14 songs. The first Eurovision winner was Lys Assia of Switzerland with her song "Refrain":



This edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was like no other, and not just because it was the first edition.

Each country submitted two songs for consideration, making this the only Contest with multiple entries from a single country. Of the seven countries, Switzerland and Luxembourg were the only ones to have both of their entries performed by the same singer—Lys Assia and Michèle Arnaud, respectively.

That's not the only thing Switzerland and Luxembourg had in common in this Contest. Each country's delegation included two jurors who would help decide the winner. The jurors for Luxembourg were unable to attend the event, so the Swiss jurors covered for them. In other words, Switzerland had four of the 28 votes that would determine the winner.

If that seems fishy, don't worry: it gets weirder. There was no elaborate points system in play for this version of Eurovision, just a secret ballot. Oh, and countries were allowed to vote for themselves. Although the official results have never been revealed, a vote of 4-2-2-2-2-2-0 doesn't seem all that far-fetched. This is not to take away from Lys Assia's victory, but it's understandable that Eurovision got its first big overhaul the following year.

It wouldn't be Eurovision without controversy. Unfortunately, although cameras were present for the first Eurovision Song Contest, the video above is the only visual archive of the competition.

[table id=19 /]"

Things to Know When You Go to Eurovision Tue, 16 May 2017 15:30:00 -0500 6d6086ce-f70a-4cf2-86d5-ece2f763e4fa "Are you thinking about going to Eurovision 2018? Here are some tips to maximize your ESC experience.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv, Ukraine. Kyiv proved to be a capable host, but it's understandable how Americans interested in going might have been intimidated by the prospect -- there's no real direct way to get to Kyiv and current foreign policy with Russia added a layer of excitement that had me bookmark the most direct route to the embassy.

Now that we know Eurovision 2018 will be in Portugal, here are some tips you can use to prepare for your first Eurovision experience.

1. Figure out your itinerary

My trip to Kyiv doubled as my honeymoon, so we decided to make it a European adventure. We flew into Budapest and spent a couple days there. We took the train up to Vienna, Austria, stayed there for the weekend, then took the train to Bratislava, Slovakia. We took a short flight from Bratislava to Kyiv in time for the first semi-final and stayed through the end of Eurovision weekend.

Not only did we get to experience four European countries in a single go, we saved a little bit of money, too. Budapest is inexpensive thanks to a favorable exchange rate.((Hungary is part of the European Union, but does not use the Euro.)) Ukraine also has a favorable exchange rate, meaning our jaunt through the Euro lands was the only pricey part of the trip. We also booked AirBnBs in most of our stops, which helped to keep costs low.

Careful sleuthing on travel sites like Kayak and Skyscanner should be able to help you hopscotch around the continent. Our flight from Bratislava to Kyiv was through the discount airline Wizz Air, which we would happily fly again.

2. Don't stress about tickets

Every year there are stories about how the Eurovision host's ticket site crashes or other major user frustrations. There's always the fear of the event being sold out, but remember that tickets are released in waves. The Grand Final will be the hottest ticket, but the semi-final shows are just as amazing.

Consider this: the first-semi final will likely be attended by the die hard Eurovision fans who purposely take off a week from work to go to the event. A good-sized crowd will be in attendance, but it is very unlikely the event will sell out completely. The second semi-final will mostly feature folks who decide to make a long weekend of Eurovision. Attendance will be greater than the first semi-final, but snagging tickets should still be a possibility.

3. Get tickets for EuroClub

EuroClub is the Eurovision night club and fan zone. During the day the venue hosts an internet cafe featuring visits from the performers and delegations. In the evenings the venue becomes a dance hall with DJs spinning all the fun Eurovision tracks. EuroClub is also where the afterparty happens after each live show, so you will likely cut a rug with the qualifiers.

The good news: you only need to buy one ticket for EuroClub. You'll receive a lanyard or wristband that will give you access for the remainder of the Contest. We were only able to attend once, but even that was worth the price of admission.

4. Chat up people in queue

Lines will happen at Eurovision, either at security, in the restrooms, or at the bar. You can rest assured that whoever is standing in front of or behind you is just as much of a Eurovision fan as you. The overall event is similar to a ComicCon or other fan convention((including cosplay)), so you know your conversation partner will have something in common with you. Some good intro questions:

  • What country are you from?
  • Which songs are you rooting for?
  • Have you been to Eurovision before?
  • What was your first Eurovision?

Keep in mind, if you are an American you will be a unicorn. Be prepared to explain how on earth you know about Eurovision and perhaps offer a theory or two about how to spread the gospel of the Contest when you get back to the States. You don't need to be a supernerd about the Contest -- those in attendance range from one step above casual fan and superfan.

When we were queued up for the first semi-final, the people behind us struck up a conversation when they heard our conversation in English and we ended up hanging out for the rest of the evening. They also offered tips (like going to EuroClub) to enhance our experience. One of the people in the group also marveled at my ability to sing along with the music. Speaking of...

5. Sing along to the music

One of my favorite moments of the entire Eurovision experience happened in the restroom at Euroclub.((This is safe for work.)) A short line had formed outside the stalls and the DJ had put on "Loin d'Ici" from last year's Contest. There were probably four or five guys in the restroom at this point, all quietly singing along to themselves.

I have no idea where these folks were from, but there is something profoundly awesome about folks from all over the world converging in a restroom in Kyiv singing along to the same song. This feeling also happened while waiting for the first semi-final to start, with folks of all backgrounds and experiences sharing this common language.

It's not too early to start planning for next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Hope to see you there!"

Getting Ready for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final Fri, 12 May 2017 11:00:00 -0500 72957018-9ff7-4c66-8b08-ae92774f96c2 "A new favorite has emerged, according to the bookkeepers.

Two semi-finals and 36 performances later, we now know the 20 acts that will join the Big Five and host country Ukraine in Saturday's Grand Final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Here is the full running order of Saturday's show:

[table id=18 /]


How did we do predicting the results of the first semi-final? Collectively, we got eight out of ten correct. Finland and Latvia failed to make the cut, though we did acknowledge that Cyprus (which did qualify) was on the bubble. Once again, YouTube predicted Poland would advance though every other metric had it ranked 11th at best. "Flashlight" probably won't finish third in the public vote, but it will probably outperform most expectations.

Did we do any better in predicting the second semi-final? Eh, we were eight for ten there as well. Serbia and FYR Macedonia missed the cut while Austria and Croatia managed to snag a spot on Saturday. Serbia and FYR Macedonia may have been the victims of early placement in the running order, as the show had no dud performances and these two entries were not able to stand out enough. It will be interesting to see how these shook out when the official rankings are revealed Sunday morning.

That leaves the business of the Grand Final on Saturday. At last check((6:15pm CET Friday, May 12)), Portugal has overtaken Italy as the bookies favorite to win. Bulgaria is third favorite, followed by Belgium and Sweden. Romania, United Kingdom, and Croatia are also in the mix. If these were your top seven choices even two weeks ago, it would be a surprise if anyone took you seriously. We should be in for an exciting show and points reveal in a little more than 24 hours.

US friends: you can watch the Grand Final live on LogoTV and starting at 3pm Eastern / Noon Pacific. If you still haven't forgiven Michelle Visage((SHE KNOWS WHY)) and would prefer to watch the show without her and Ross Mathews'  commentary, we recommend Sweden's broadcast of the competition, which can be found on the SVT Play app or on their website.

Good luck to the 26 finalists!"

Eurovision 2017 Second Semi-Final: Our Predictions Thu, 11 May 2017 05:00:00 -0500 f087b05a-46a5-49b8-9b83-72e6e48cf07b "When 10 of the entries are toss-ups for qualifying, you know it's going to be a good Eurovision semi-final.

In all the years we have covered the Eurovision Song Contest--both here and other sites--we have not encountered a semi-final quite as tricky to predict as this year's second semi-final. There is very little consensus among the telESCope staff or the external metrics (YouTube views, odds, etc.), which means the bubble/margin of error is quite large.

Regardless, we have picked ten entries that we expect to move on to Saturday's Grand Final. Maybe "expect" is too strong a word, but we know mathematically that at least two of our guesses will be correct...

  • Belarus
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • FYR Macedonia
  • Hungary
  • Israel
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Romania
  • Serbia

Bulgaria, Denmark, and the Netherlands are the only entries we feel certain about, as they have been in the top 10 of all metrics throughout the season. The only other entry to receive all thumbs up from the telESCope staff in the most recent rankings (done Wednesday) was Austria, but those rankings were all near the cutoff and held down by lower rankings in other metrics.

The other area of consensus was in the realm of what we are confident will not qualify. Our apologies to Lithuania, Malta, San Marino, and Switzerland, but y'all never really caught fire with us or the public at large. Hopefully you can prove us wrong Thursday evening.

That leaves 10 entries that could be considered toss-ups. Strong cases could be made for any of those entries advancing, depending on which metric you wish to stand behind. We think it will be safe to say that if anyone goes 10 for 10 Thursday night, you should buy that person a drink.

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest will take place Thursday at 21.00 CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific. US friends, we recommend watching Sweden's livestream (or catch it later if you have jobs or something interfering with your ability to watch)."

Eurovision 2017 First Semi-Final: Our Predictions Tue, 09 May 2017 05:00:00 -0500 95e9fd47-d18a-4cb6-b752-8d444e9008fc "Will we go 10-for-10 in our guesses for who will qualify out of the first Eurovision semi-final?

After much number-crunching, YouTube watching, head scratching, and consensus building, we have finally compiled our data and have made our prediction for which ten acts we think will advance out of the first semi-final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest.

The 10 acts that we think will advance, presented in alphabetical order, are:

  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belgium
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Latvia
  • Moldova
  • Portugal
  • Sweden

Let's talk about our confidence levels, shall we?

Azerbaijan, Belgium, Portugal, and Sweden are the acts in which we are most confident, as they have all appeared in the top 10 of every single metric we have measured in this process.

Armenia, Australia, Greece, and Moldova we also feel pretty confident about. Each had one metric that fell out of the top 10, but have otherwise strong records. Australia is the iffiest of the group, as Isaiah's rehearsal footage was his low-scoring metric, which may indicate a slide in popularity. Moldova has been just making it into the top 10 of most rankings, though one of our gut predictions has "Hey Mamma" as 14th.

The two acts that are gambles on this list are Finland and Latvia. We have been bullish on Latvia since the start of this process, and the song has been just popular enough in rehearsals to push it into top 10 territory. Finland has had a late surge in popularity since rehearsals began. However, in our scoring rubric, it is only one point ahead of Montenegro. Cyprus is also on the bubble, trailing Finland by only five points. Iceland may also have an outside chance of snagging a golden ticket to the Grand Final, though the data and our guts don't seem to suggest that outcome.

We'll find out the results at the end of the first semi-final, which takes place today at 22:00 EET / 21:00 CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific, live from Kyiv, Ukraine.


Eurovision 2017 YouTube Rehearsals: The Autoqualifiers Mon, 08 May 2017 14:00:00 -0500 cd92db6b-8538-43d1-9423-c88551848711 "We take one last look at the Big Five and Ukraine's rehearsals and see how their YouTube numbers stack up.

The six autoqualifiers for the Eurovision Song Contest -- France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and host country Ukraine -- also had the chance to rehearse on the main stage in Kyiv twice in the last few days. Here is how their stats measure up to the rest of the field.


The Contest frontrunner currently((As of 8:50pm CET/1:50pm Eastern Monday, May 8)) holds the lead for both the first rehearsal and second rehearsal YouTube views. The first rehearsal clip for "Occidentali's Karma" is the second-most-watched clip of the entire field, with more than 245,000 views. The second rehearsal, which happened Sunday, will probably cross 100,000 a few hours after this post goes live.


"Do It for Your Lover" currently sits in second place in this smaller group. The first rehearsal has more than 172,000 views, putting that clip in the top ten of first rehearsal footage. The second rehearsal clip is not as strong, landing in third for the autoqualifiers.


Alma's "Requiem" has the most-watched official video of this group((Remember, Italy's official video refers to the Eurovision version)), but she sits in third place with about 190,000 total views between the two rehearsals.

United Kingdom

"I Will Never Give Up On You" by Lucie Jones hasn't given up, as it currently sits solidly in fourth place with just under 139,000 total views. Though this number is middle of the pack when it comes to the full field of 42 entries, the UK might need to worry about another sub-standard finish once we begin comparing just the 26 finalists.

Ukraine and Germany

The home team that is O.Torvald's "Time" has a slight edge over Germany, with 124,000 views compared to 108,000 for Levina. Neither of these numbers are great when compared to the full field, but even a middling finish for either of these entries will probably defy expectations.


Eurovision 2017 YouTube Second Rehearsals: Semi-Final 2 Sun, 07 May 2017 15:00:00 -0500 345ebb27-d1f5-42b4-92ca-efe958b0f875 "Croatia may be playing spoiler in the second semi-final, making this year's Eurovision Song Contest that much more unpredictable.

Sunday's Eurovision Song Contest festivities in Kyiv included the second round of rehearsals for the Big Five and host country Ukraine, as well as the red carpet opening ceremony for this year's competition. With 24 hours worth of data for the entire second semi-final field, let's take a look at how the rankings of those videos may indicated popularity going into Thursday's performances.

Here are the top 10 videos from the second semi-final second rehearsals, as of 10:30pm CET / 4:30pm Eastern:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Serbia
  3. Croatia
  4. Bulgaria
  5. FYR Macedonia
  6. Denmark
  7. Belarus
  8. Romania
  9. Israel
  10. Austria

Lithuania and Estonia dropped out of the top 10 from when we looked at the first rehearsal footage, and I fear this may be bad news for both countries. Lithuania sits in 13th and Estonia is in 15th, with at least 10,000 views behind Austria. In terms of the combined viewership for both rehearsals, here's how the field shakes out:

  1. Netherlands
  2. FYR Macedonia
  3. Croatia
  4. Bulgaria
  5. Serbia
  6. Belarus
  7. Romania
  8. Lithuania
  9. Israel
  10. Denmark

Croatia is poised to play spoiler based on earlier predictions. Hungary sits in 11th, trailing by fewer than 600 views. The Netherlands is the clear favorite of all the rehearsal footage, garnering more than half a million views between both videos. Though the second rehearsal was not nearly as dominant in the rankings (it currently trails Belgium from the first semi-final), it is safe to say O'G3NE is making a run for the gold.

Monday, we'll take a look at how the rehearsal videos for the six autoqualifiers have performed. Tuesday will feature our official predictions for the first semi-final. We'll have follow-up coverage after the competition, then offer our predictions for the second semi-final on Thursday. Are we excited yet?"

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Second Rehearsals: Semi-Final 1 Sat, 06 May 2017 15:00:00 -0500 8aa6cd43-8ea0-4acb-9bdf-79c9a09f3bea "It's Belgium vs. Greece in the Eurovision First Semi-Final YouTube Rehearsal Race.

The countries competing in the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest had their second and final rehearsal on stage in Kyiv, Ukraine Thursday and Friday. Now that a full day has passed since Latvia closed out the round, let's take a look at the YouTube data to speculate on outcomes this Tuesday.

First, it should be noted that Eurovision changed up how they presented the second rehearsal clips. Rather than a two-minute clip including staging and backstage moments, each performance was a 40-second snippet showing how the performance will look on TV during the show. It works as a teaser, as well as clearing up some concerns that may arise if there are weird camera angles from off-stage that wouldn't be part of the actual presentation.

Here is how the countries rank as of 22:35 Central European Time / 4:35pm Eastern:

  1. Belgium
  2. Greece
  3. Sweden
  4. Poland
  5. Portugal
  6. Azerbaijan
  7. Montenegro
  8. Armenia
  9. Iceland
  10. Australia

That's quite a changeup from what happened after the first rehearsal. Finland and Latvia have fallen out of the top 10, though they are both within striking distance of Australia. Belgium is solidly in first place, with Greece being the only other country to have more than 100,000 views at the time of this writing.

Another metric to consider is the combined viewership of first and second rehearsal clips. When those totals are ranked, these are the top 10 for the first semi-final:

  1. Belgium
  2. Greece
  3. Poland
  4. Portugal
  5. Sweden
  6. Finland
  7. Montenegro
  8. Azerbaijan
  9. Latvia
  10. Armenia

Iceland just misses this top 10 by about 8,000 views, but then it is a sharp drop to 12th place.((Australia)) It will be interesting to see if and how these datapoints correlate with the semi-final results.

Tomorrow we'll look at the second semi-final, which may have some shakeups of its own."

Eurovision 2017 YouTube First Rehearsals: Semi-Final 2 Thu, 04 May 2017 18:00:00 -0500 8ee60d25-5ae6-413f-b544-79dca11bea31 "There is a clear YouTube front-runner after the first round of Eurovision semi-final rehearsals.

The second set of rehearsals for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest began Thursday in Kyiv, Ukraine. With more than 24 hours passing since the participants of the second semi-final wrapped their first set of rehearsals, let's take a look at how those videos are faring on YouTube.

Process nerds: the reason we're doing a 24-hour delay in reporting data is to allow for the videos for those performing in the second half of the second semi-final to rack up views. As the data is about to show, an extra day on YouTube for those in the first half probably isn't that much of an advantage. Here are the rankings((As of 1:00 am Central European Time Friday, May 5 / 7:00 pm Eastern Time Thursday, May 4)):

  1. Netherlands
  2. FYR Macedonia
  3. Romania
  4. Serbia
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Belarus
  7. Lithuania
  8. Israel
  9. Estonia
  10. Denmark

The video for the Netherlands is currently dominating the first semi-final rankings, with more than 314,000 views. FYR Macedonia is behind by almost 200,000 views, and current first semi-final leader Greece has only 157,000 views. Either some loyal O'G3NE fans are hitting the repeat button, or we might want to add Netherlands to the list of challengers for the win at the Grand Final.

Lithuania is a genuine surprise on this list. Prior to rehearsals, Fusedmarc's video for "Rain of Revolution" was one of the least watched of the entire 42-song field, including ranking last within the second semi-final. The rehearsal clip is solidly in seventh place, and may be one to keep an eye on when they get their second turn on the Eurovision stage on Saturday.

Austria and Denmark are neck-and-neck on the bubble, with only ten((10!)) views separating them. Switzerland and Norway, which are both in the top ten for their official music videos, have fallen to the wayside for their rehearsal clips, sitting in 15th and 17th, respectively.

The biggest drop has been San Marino, which currently sits at the bottom in 18th place. Although "Spirit of the Night" has one of the most-watched official videos in this year's competition, there has been a noticeable drop-off in interest in the last couple weeks.

On deck for Friday: the first semi-final will finish the second round of rehearsals, the first five countries of the second semi-final will get one last go on the stage, and the auto-qualifiers will finally get to strut their stuff. We'll be back Saturday for a check-in on the first semi-final, the Big Five, and host country Ukraine."

Eurovision 2017 YouTube First Rehearsals: Semi-Final 1 Wed, 03 May 2017 23:00:00 -0500 ba60ab04-9571-476b-af09-b4f495748303 "If YouTube provides a clue as to who will qualify from the first Eurovision Song Contest semi-final, there could be some major surprises in store.

Rehearsals for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest kicked off Sunday, with the first half of the first semi-final taking the stage in Kyiv. On Monday, the second half of the first semi-final got their turn on the stage in the International Exhibition Centre. As has been customary for the last several years, Eurovision has released teaser snippets of each rehearsal, giving home viewers a glimpse into what is in store for next week's competition.

You know what that also means? MORE DATA TO SPECULATE UPON! We have been tracking the viewership of these snippets and have discovered some surprises that may reveal some potential shakeups to previous expectations for this year's Contest.

As of this writing((12:06am, Wednesday, May 3)), here are the Top 10 first rehearsal videos from the first semi-final:

  1. Greece
  2. Belgium
  3. Finland
  4. Poland
  5. Montenegro
  6. Portugal
  7. Sweden
  8. Azerbaijan
  9. Iceland
  10. Latvia

There are quite a few countries on that list that haven't been part of the conversation this season, including Greece, Finland, Poland, and Iceland. Noticeably absent from the list are Armenia (11th) and Australia (13th). It's possible that the videos provided weren't intriguing enough to demand repeat viewing. I suspect that is the case for Sweden, as the performance looks pretty similar to the Melfest presentation, so nothing new could be gleaned from the teaser.

What I find most intriguing is Finland's surge in the field. In the overall YouTube rankings (Official Video + Rehearsal Video), the country is ranked 16th. However, the execution of the performance on the stage may be enticing shares and repeat views. It will be interesting to see how Norma John holds up when the second rehearsals take place on Thursday.

The second semi-final had its first half of rehearsals Tuesday, with the second half taking place today. We'll weigh in on how the second semi-final looks Thursday evening."

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Ukraine - O.Torvald - Time Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 7eede584-2884-4c98-bd91-2d95c5ca6d16 "With controversy swirling, can Ukraine capitalize on home field advantage?<!--more-->

Country: Ukraine
Song Title: "Time"
Artist: O.Torvald
Last year's entry:1944” — Jamala (1st Place)

Ukraine captured victory in 2016, despite coming in second place in both the jury and televoting components, and thanks in part to an assist from a new voting system. (Under the voting system used in 2015, jury favorite Australia would have taken home the trophy.) Instead of trying to figure out who would host on behalf of the Aussies, we've spent the last few months wondering whether Ukraine and Russia could figure out a way to co-exist. (Spoiler alert! They have not.) Can O.Torvald cut through the geopolitical and bureaucratic noise to represent their country well at the Grand Final?

I like rock at Eurovision, and I like several parts of this entry, but I'm not as keen on it as Mike was. In particular, there are some structural issues in the last third; the bridge starts at 1:54 with eight or nine seconds of silence, losing the momentum out of the second chorus. If they want to provide contrast and build tension, they could do so in half that much time. The next thirty seconds are everything I want from this genre at Eurovision: pyrotechnics, grungy guitars, cymbal-heavy percussion, and no vocals to distract from Very Important Rocking. Then we abruptly return to the breathy pre-chorus, again losing energy heading into the final chorus, after which the song just kinda .... ends? Compared to recent rock entries like Georgia's "Midnight Gold," this one just seems flat. Part of me wishes they'd throw away everything but the bridge and start over.

Ukraine doesn't have to fight their way into the Grand Final, of course, but not performing in a semi-final has its disadvantages. They won't have an opportunity to test their staging choices in front of a live Eurovision crowd, and by the time they get onstage, the viewing audience may already have developed allegiances elsewhere. There might also be some backlash as a result of the extended scuffle with Russia. Despite the various problems Ukraine faces, this is a more solid entry than many of the other auto-qualifiers. (Looking at you, Germany/Spain/UK.) With a decent performance placement (and a decent performance) I'd expect "Time" to land in the bottom half, but probably not in the very last few spots.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Italy - Francesco Gabbani - Occidentali’s Karma Wed, 26 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 986f791f-f5c3-46c4-97fc-f6a01f971272 "Will Italy's Francesco Gabbani win the whole megillah with "Occidentali's Karma" in Kyiv?

Country: Italy
Song Title: "Occidentali's Karma"
Artist: Francesco Gabbani
Last year's entry: "No Degree of Separation" - Francesca Michielin (16th Place)

I started writing about Eurovision for the 2011 Contest, the same year Italy returned after a 13-year hiatus. My favorite entry that year was "Madness of Love" by Raphael Gualazzi, which almost won thanks to a ton of "welcome back" points and a fantastic song. Since returning, Italy has missed out on the Top 10 twice -- in 2014 when RAI decided not to use Sanremo as its selection process, and last year when their singer was the Sanremo runner-up.

This year's Sanremo champion, Francesco Gabbani, won over the festival with a dancing gorilla and a catchy-as-all-get-out track:

Normally I try to challenge the notion of the declared favorite winning, partly because a foregone conclusion (see 2012 and 2015) is hella boring. However, this song has so much going for it.

The construction of the song brims with charisma, though the abridged version has removed my favorite part. The first verse begins with very basic instrumentation and vocals, building up to the party of the chorus. In the full version, the second verse pulls back from the party, but with more instruments and story. The party returns for the second chorus, then we get the bridge which has a similar build as the overall song. Everyone is invited to the party by the end, with the final "namaste, ALLEZ!" which will probably echo throughout the International Exhibition Centre two weeks from Saturday.

The only challengers that I see coming for Italy are Bulgaria and Australia. Since neither of those entries were selected through a televised process, we don't have a sense of what their stage performances could entail. Plus, with Italy automatically going to the Grand Final, those challengers get an extra performance in front of televoters.

There's also the issue of which half Italy draws for the running order. Though it shouldn't matter, the second half would be a better fit, if only to restore some energy before the voting process begins. If Italy were to draw the first half, it would probably best fit toward the middle of the running order.

Italy has put in the work the last six years since returning to Eurovision. Karma should reward Francesco Gabbani with the win.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Spain - Manel Navarro - Do It for Your Lover Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 5e2259c5-dbf4-4244-a037-856a8dc576f2 "Manel Navarro's "Do It For Your Lover" seems tailor-made to graze the bottom of the Eurovision final standings.

Country: Spain
Song Title: "Do It For Your Lover"
Artist: Manel Navarro
Last year's entry: "Say Yay!" - Barei (22nd Place)

Spain's been having a rough go of it in the Eurovision Song Contest lately((along with the rest of the Big 5, which seems to be a recurring pattern here in this week's Eurovision content)).  Last year's entry, the sprightly "Say Yay!" be Barei, was scraping the bottom in 22nd place out of 26.  Before that, their highest final placements had been in 2012 ("Quedate Conmigo") and 2014 (Ruth Lorenzo's "Dancing In The Rain").  That 2014 entry seems to be the standard template for Spain these days - verses in Spanish, chorus in English.  Looking at this year's entry, Manel Navarro's "Do It For Your Lover", they may have boiled that down a little too far:

Y'all?  This is an excellent song to play in the background of Sandals' ad for their new resort in Majorca, but it's not a great Eurovision song.  The chorus is slightly over 5 words, and the chill vibe is a nice break from the usual Eurovision balladry, but I fear it drifts a little too off course from what constitutes a successful entry.  This seems tailor-made to get lost in the spectacle and shuffle of far grander entries and performances.

If there's one saving grace here, it's that there seem to be far blander entries in the Big 5 to prevent this from landing at the very bottom this year.  I can totally see France, Germany, and Spain duking it out for that very bottom position with this year's submissions, but I think Spain may come out the furthest from the bottom - this seems like the sort of thing that will resonate more with the televoters.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Germany - Levina - Perfect Life Tue, 25 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 e9a198a9-3e0e-4a79-86c8-f499a07c8b8a "In which Germany tries to get up off the mat.<!--more-->

Country: Germany
Song Title: "Perfect Life"
Artist: Levina
Last year's entry:Ghost” — Jamie-Lee (26th Place)

Let's not sugarcoat this: Germany has been AWFUL in the last couple of contests. They were one of two countries((The other one was Austria, who literally set their piano on fire)) to earn the dreaded nul points in 2015, and ended up on the wrong side of the tiebreaker to land in last place. I know the EBU said last year's voting changes were to better generate suspense, but wouldn't be surprised if two countries -- one of them a major funder -- getting nul points wasn't also a major factor. Those changes led to Germany scoring more points (11!) in 2016 than they would have under the old system -- but they STILL ended up in last place. Can Levina help Germany break out of this major slump?

Ah geez. It feels like I'm kicking Germany when they're down, but as Ben pointed out over two months ago, it feels like this song is destined for the bottom of the pile.((Have we ever had a single country end up in last place in the Grand Final three years in a row?)) I enjoy Levina's voice, and she's proven to have strong and compelling live vocals, if not much stage presence. This song is just so bland, there's no escaping it. There's practically no change in the percussion from start to finish, no real dynamics, no arc to the melody, no harmony, no bridge. The cherry on top of this terrible entry is the attempt to make Levina look edgy in this music video. It just ... doesn't work. At this point, I think we can safely say: it's not you, Levina. There is something seriously broken about Germany's Eurovision selection / production team. Do us all a favor and bring back Dschinghis Khan, maybe?((No, don't, they're suuuuper problematic. But you gotta do something else. Please.))

Eurovision 2017 Entry: France - Alma - Requiem Mon, 24 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 54c981af-985f-4650-81a0-78127a9c4ca7 "France copies their most recent Eurovision success with Alma's "Requiem", but misses the soul that made it work.

Country: France
Song Title: "Requiem"
Artist: Alma
Last year's entry: "J'ai Cherche" - Amir (6th Place)

When it comes to France in the Eurovision Song Contest, I'll take a Sebastien Tellier or a Twin Twin over a Patricia Kaas any day.  France has some truly weird pop((as well as being the home of ye-ye, which I also dig)), and the ESC is the perfect place to give that singular voice a place to shine.  Alas, they usually use their given slot for the balladry that also tends to be a hallmark of their nation.  The last few years, we've seen some English creep into their songs, in what seems like a slight indication that they're starting to realize that they can't just send another entirely-in-French song if they want to win, and it's served them well - did they learn anything from their 6th place finish last year with this year's entry?

Well, sort of.  This definitely feels like France is trying to capture the same level of success they achieved at last year's competition by copying the various elements of last year's entry (same songwriter, mostly uptempo number, similar instrumentation, English chorus that feels a little bit pasted-in as a concession to English's dominance as a language in the ESC), but I still feel about as meh about this one as I did about last year's.  It's nice enough, but I feel like there are about 10 or 15 entries that I'm more excited about in the semis, and if this needed to qualify, I'd put it in the bubble region in either of the semi-finals.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: United Kingdom - Lucie Jones - Never Give Up on You Mon, 24 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 ac4cdfdb-665a-4723-945d-ffe6a4407976 "The United Kingdom is trying to play nice with Eurovision by promising to "Never Give Up on You", but will that feeling be reciprocated?

Country: United Kingdom
Song Title: "Never Give Up on You"
Artist: Lucie Jones
Last year's entry: "You're Not Alone" - Joe and Jake (24th Place)

The United Kingdom has finally wised up to using an alum from The X Factor as their Eurovision representative, with series six contestant Lucie Jones beating out a bunch of other alumni for the chance to represent the Union Jack in Kyiv. Will Europe "Never Give Up on You", UK?

How to answer this question... I don't think Europe will give up on this entry, but I don't imagine this song attracting much attention in the first place.

Lucie Jones does a fine job delivering the song, and I can understand how she has booked so many theater gigs. Unfortunately, there isn't much to the song. The lyrics aren't quite cliche, but there are no clever turns of phrase or sophisticated rhymes happening either. The chorus doesn't have a strong hook, allowing the song to wander off and get lost. Even with repeat listens, I still find myself hoping that the beat will drop after the intro or some other excitement will get injected to make the track more exciting, but instead I remember disappointment.

There's also the awkwardness of this entry coming about as the United Kingdom moves toward giving up on the European Union. Eurovision is not a political contest((DRINK)), but I wouldn't be surprised if some jurors or full juries decide to water down any support for Lucie Jones. Of course, in a Grand Final field with much more interesting songs, the watering down probably would have happened regardless.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Armenia — Artsvik — Fly With Me Fri, 21 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 4dcbb2d6-b044-47ce-8bab-c76de5250f3a "Will Artsvik's "Fly With Me" soar to the top of the Eurovision leaderboard, or will Armenia fail to launch?

Country: Armenia
Song Title: "Fly With Me"
Artist: Artsvik
First Semi-Final: Position 16
Last year's entry: "LoveWave" - Iveta Mukuchyan (7th Place)

Armenia has taken part in the Eurovision song contest for just over 10 years now, and there seems to be a pattern to how well their entries do: while they've only missed the finals twice (once in 2011, when Emmy's "Boom Boom" finished 12th in its semifinal, and when they sat out 2012 due to political ~drama~ with Azerbaijan, who was hosting), how well they do in the finals is directly connected to how close their song follows typical pop structures.  If they go too far off course, they're likely to place lower in the finals.  How does this year's entry, Artsvik's "Fly With Me", look to fare?

So, I'm going to be up front and just say that having watched this entry multiple times over the past few weeks, I just plain don't get it.  I recognize it as a song, but it is so far from the structure of what I consider a "Eurovision song" with some semblance on choruses and verses that I can't quite process everything that's going on with it.  I'm all for non-traditional song structures, but this feels closer to some past entries Albania has sent, where I can appreciate interesting vocal melodies but don't like the larger song as a whole.  Even the video feels disjointed, with its ring-o-hair opening that has no connection to the rest of what goes on.

To tie this into my opening spiel: Armenia's two most successful entries, 2008's "Qele Qele" and 2014's "Never Alone" both hewed much closer to standard pop than this one does, so even if it makes the final, I don't see it resonating with audiences as much as those entries did.  Add in the fact that Armenia is in the much-more-heavily-stacked first semifinal and you've got another level of difficulty they'll have to "Fly" over.  Artsvik will be performing right between Cyprus and Slovenia - I think they'll easily be better/more memorable than Slovenia, but Cyprus has both of those entries beat in terms of quality.  I don't foresee this one soaring to the top of the results board, if it doesn't fail to launch in its semi.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Bulgaria — Kristian Kostov — Beautiful Mess Fri, 21 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 007e05f3-4dd8-4b80-80f2-972cda354bec "Bulgaria has finally cracked the Eurovision code! Can Kristian Kostov earn another top five finish with "Beautiful Mess"?

Country: Bulgaria
Song Title: "Beautiful Mess"
Artist: Kristian Kostov
Second Semi-Final: Position 15
Last year's entry: "If Love Was a Crime" - Poli Genova (4th Place)

Bulgaria is still riding high after last year's Eurovision Song Contest, where Poli Genova not only earned the country's second trip to the Grand Final but finishing in fourth place overall. I mean, even my mom called Bulgaria her favorite. That's a tough act for Kristian Kostov to follow -- is "Beautiful Mess" up to the task?

Yes. Yes it is. Bulgaria took a deliberative approach to choosing its entry this year, waiting until almost the last minute to announce their artist and their song. If a country is going to do an internal selection, this is the way to go about it, as the broadcaster can evaluate both the field of the semi-final as well as the field overall.

In terms of singers, there aren't many in the second semi-final where you could do an apples-to-apples comparison with Kristian Kostov. Ireland's Brendan Murray comes closest in age and sound, but the plaintive delivery of "Beautiful Mess" is way more interesting than the wispy "Dying to Try." As for the song, Hungary's "Origo" is the closest in terms of bringing cultural music traditions to the track, but the songs are so distinct from one another that it hardly puts the two in direct competition. As a result, "Beautiful Mess" stands out because it is well delivered and there are no other songs in the second semi-final quite like it.

Looking at the full field of likely competitors in the Grand Final, there isn't as much direct competition there either. Portugal's entry by Salvador Sobral, like Hungary, brings specific music traditions, but again you would not confuse one for the other if heard back-to-back.((Such as the offerings from Spain and Austria this year.)) The only direct competition comes from Australia's Isaiah Firebrace, who also has a powerful voice and a catchy ballad. It is my hope that they do not draw the same half for the Grand Final, because that would be a disaster for both entries.

That's right: I have no doubt that Bulgaria will be making another visit to Saturday. I'm not sure if Kristian Kostov will be able to beat 4th place -- there's a lot of competition for the top five this year -- but a top 10 finish would be a beautiful mess.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: San Marino — Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson — Spirit of the Night Thu, 20 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 849e7dd0-eca7-4aeb-ae19-1f34bdc6b629 "If the "Spirit of the Night" is willing, Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson could be making a run for San Marino to reach the top 10.

Country: San Marino
Song Title: "Spirit of the Night"
Artist: Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson
Second Semi-Final: Position #10
Last year's entry: "I Didn't Know" - Serhat (DNQ - 12th Place, SF1)

Let's play a little inside baseball. When San Marino surprise-dropped their entry last month, my immediate reaction to the telESCope team was the following:

This was followed by a flurry of posts about her updated Facebook page and links to every story I could find, an unexpected deluge which I hope didn't inconvenience the rest of the team on a quite Sunday morning. It wasn't until an hour or so later that I realized that I should probably listen to the song?

As is often the case with San Marino's entries, the first impression is usually "oh... oh, dear... well... hmmm..." I think this is more the effect of their songwriter-in-residence Ralph Siegel, who has never said no to a key change, tone change, or style change in his songs. One of the major critiques that has been consistent with his submissions (five of the last six for San Marino) is that Siegel has a tendency to cram multiple songs into one three-minute chunk, such as the switchup in 2013's "Crisalide (Vola)"((Which, in fairness, I LOVED)) or 2015's "Chain of Lights."

However, I think working with a duo in 2015 may have resulted in Siegel figuring out how to follow his impulse to cram as much song into three minutes without making the song seem like multiple, disorganized ideas. Instead of the duo working together on the first half and the second half, why not have each half of the duo provide a different take of the full song?

In other words, try listening to this song with just Jimmie Wilson telling his side of the story. Then listen again just for Valentina's parts. The song is not as reliant on call and response as it would seem, with Valentina adding flavor with her contribution rather than introducing the audible conflict of previous entries from San Marino. The division of labor is happening length-wise rather than width-wise, which works incredibly well.

Let me be clear, this is still a pretty goofy song, but in the way that "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John and Kiki Dee is goofy but incredibly enjoyable. The home audience seems to enjoy this track as well: it has been dominating Eurovision's YouTube page, racking up more than a half-million hits last week.((Sweden, the most-viewed video this year, only took in 332,000 views the same week.))

The main challenge I see to San Marino's success at Eurovision is its placement in the running order. Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson will be performing tenth--smack dab in the middle of the field. They are right after Ireland((Zzz)) and before Croatia((Zzz)). San Marino will definitely be the standout in that triad, but I worry home viewers may decide that stretch is when they should take a bathroom or tea break. The second semi-final is heavier in tone overall, with San Marino bringing about one of the bright spots, but that won't do much if televoters aren't watching.

If the jury can come through in the semi-final, San Marino should be making its second trip to the Eurovision Grand Final. If the "Spirit of the Night" is willing, Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson could be making a run for the top 10.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Iceland — Svala — Paper Thu, 20 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 aa33fec9-b4a8-4dd1-ae22-66a55b5fb163 "In an extremely crowded field, I'm not sure Svala can defend this thesis.<!--more-->

Country: Iceland
Song Title: "Paper"
Artist: Svala
First Semi-Final: Position #13
Last year's entry:Hear Them Calling” — Greta Salóme (DNQ - 14th Place, SF1)

Despite bringing one of the most colorful entries in recent history -- Pollapönk's "No Prejudice" in 2014 -- and coming in second place (behind Norway's record-setting "Fairytale" win) in 2009, Iceland has had a pretty dismal run at Eurovision. They've DNQed five times since 2005, with an average placement of 15th in their seven Grand Final appearances. Can Svala get Iceland back to the Grand Final, or will she bring her country its third DNQ in a row?

We're split on this entry; Ben loves it and has confidence it'll qualify, but I'm not so sure. I like Svala's voice, and enjoy the first half of this song. There's just no respite from the chorus, though, which clocks in at 35 seconds, and is pretty much the exact same thing each of the three times we hear it. The metaphors also become unwieldy as they pile up; "You cut through through / I'm stuck like glue to you" is clever, but I cringe just about every time I hear "a thousand words for you." Last but not least, I can't get behind this tempo; it's too slow to be a dance a song, but the second verse and beat prevent this from being classified as a ballad. I can't believe I'm saying this, but this live acoustic performance makes me wonder what this track would sound like as a country song.

There's no respite for Iceland, either, in this first semi-final. Sweden, Australia, Azerbaijan, and Belgium all seem like locks to qualify, leaving six spots up for grabs. Cyprus, Latvia, Armenia, Moldova, and Montenegro all occupy a similar soundspace, and I've placed Iceland as the weakest entry of that bunch. Given all the musical problems I have with this entry, and the strength of the crowd in this semi-final, I just don't see how Svala edges her way in.

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week #6: Standings Thu, 20 Apr 2017 02:00:00 -0500 48b0d29a-d789-4800-aa9c-fc3651b2f9ed "Now that the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is down to 42 participants, what countries are the top ten for YouTube views?

We're in the homestretch of wild speculation season April, which means we can pretty much lock in what the YouTube favorites are for this year's Eurovision Song Contest. With rehearsals beginning a week from Sunday, what can we glean from which videos are at the top of the list?

The Favorites

  • Sweden -- "I Can't Go On" -- Robin Bengtsson 3 million views
  • Belgium -- "City Lights" -- Blanche 2.7 million views
  • Bulgaria -- "Beautiful Mess" -- Kristian Kostov 2.1 million views
  • San Marino -- "Spirit of the Night" -- Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson 2 million views
  • FYR Macedonia -- "Dance Alone" -- Jana Burcesca 1.87 million views
  • France -- "Requiem" -- ALMA 1.74 million views
  • Serbia -- "In Too Deep" -- Tijana Bogicevic 1.69 million views
  • Australia -- "Don't Come Easy" -- Isaiah Firebrace 1.51 million views
  • Armenia -- "Fly With Me" -- Artsvik 1.39 million views
  • Azerbaijan -- "Skeletons" -- Dihaj 1.32 million views

Now, there are some caveats to this list. First, Italy's Francesco Gabbani's Vevo video for "Occidentali's Karma" (which has been available since February 9) is approaching 100 million views. The abridged Eurovision version (posted at the end of March) has only 870,000 views. It'll be interesting to see how his numbers stack up once rehearsal footage gets posted.

Caveat number two: Russia. Before dropping out of the Contest last week due to continued strained relations with host country Ukraine, Julia Samoylova's "Flame is Burning" had racked up more than 2 million views. If anything, Russia's departure has made the second semi-final a bit more competitive.

The surprises from this list: San Marino and FYR Macedonia. Both countries have struggled for attention at the Contest, and both have managed to generate quite a lot of positive buzz. It remains to be seen if and how YouTube popularity will translate to televotes, but this could be a watershed year for both delegations.

YouTube viewership figures are based on surveying the official Eurovision channel videos between 8pm and 8:30pm Eastern on Wednesdays."

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Norway — JOWST — Grab the Moment Wed, 19 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 edc24dd2-2926-47b7-bec4-305cee1c6619 "Will Norway's JOWST "kill kill kill kill kill" it in Kyiv?

Country: Norway
Song Title: "Grab the Moment"
Artist: JOWST
Second Semi-Final: Position #12
Last year's entry: "Icebreaker" - Agnete (DNQ - 13th Place, SF2)

Norway was spoiled for choice in their national selection process this year, but landing on "Grab the Moment" by JOWST may be one of the boldest moves at this year's Eurovision Song Contest:

I think Ben hit it on the head that this track should go over really well with televoters. Not only are there multiple hooks that are super catchy, a song like this has been noticeably absent from the Contest. The lyric construction reminds me of the Script, with the overall song reminding me of their track "Hall of Fame." What I appreciate is that I am reminded of the track, rather than imagining JOWST's efforts as a retread. This track has charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.((Though somehow manages to avoid being dragtastic.)) It would be a major surprise if juries were unmoved by this track.

Ben raised the concern about how "Grab the Moment" will be performed live, particularly with the vocal sampling. I don't think that will be a significant roadblock--the video performance above looks like a final draft of what we could expect to see in Kyiv. Backup singers could help with the vocal sampling effects and layers. A few tweaks to the staging would be nice just so the performances((That's right, plural. This is going to the Grand Final.)) aren't a carbon copy of what we've already seen, but that certainly isn't required. This is one of the entries I am most looking forward to see on stage.

After getting shut out last year, Scandinavia is back with a vengeance. I strongly suspect Norway is going to "kill kill kill kill kill" it in Kyiv.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Lithuania — Fusedmarc — Rain of Revolution Wed, 19 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 6aa98245-225f-46ab-934b-53126e08f164 "Not a bathroom break entry, but not gonna make it to Saturday's Grand Final either.<!--more-->

Country: Lithuania
Song Title: "Rain of Revolution"
Artist: Fusedmarc
Second Semi-Final: Position #17
Last year's entry:I’ve Been Waiting for This Night” — Donny Montell (9th Place)

Over the last decade, Lithuania has been good at earning themselves a Saturday performance -- they're seven for ten on that front -- but not good at finishing strong. Even taking last year's top-ten finish into account, their average result over that same span is 18th place. Donny Martell has done his part for his country, twice being responsible not only for Grand Final appearances, but also for the two best results (9th and 14th) since 2006. Can Fusedmarc take their country to a third straight Grand Final, or will they just end up raining on Lithuania's parade?

Bring your galoshes, folks. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot about this entry I appreciate, including the presentation that Ben (not wrongly) characterized as seven different ideas happening at once. It's songs like this that made me fall in love with ESC, and it's song like this that keep me coming back year after year. In this case, though, there's a mismatch between what the percussion and bass are promising, and what this song delivers vocally. If I had a genie that would grant me three Eurovision-related wishes each year, one of this year's changes would be Annie Lennox on vocals. Viktorija Ivanovskaja's voice works well in the first verse, but just doesn't offer the depth or color I want in the chorus and beyond. She just gets overshadowed by everything else that's going on in the presentation.

If she can't stand out on her own stage, I'm not sure how Fusedmarc can win over enough juries and televoters to get into the Grand Final. Lithuania are in the easier semi-final, but they've been at the bottom of basically every metric we use to make decisions since we started keeping track. This isn't a bathroom-break entry((Ahem, Ireland)) -- I'll look forward to seeing what presentation they end up with in the semi-final -- but would be beyond shocked to see them qualify.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Sweden — Robin Bengtsson — I Can't Go On Tue, 18 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 3b03ab19-78b4-4a63-835c-c13b31ae6c00 "We think Robin Bengtsson can "Go On" to the Eurovision finals, but will Sweden get their third win in five years?

Country: Sweden
Song Title: "I Can't Go On"
Artist: Robin Bengtsson
First Semi-Final: Position 1
Last year's entry: "If I Were Sorry"  - Frans (5th Place)

Sweden's been having a powerhouse few years at the Eurovision Song Contest.  After winning in 2012 and 2015 ((and placing 3rd in 2014)), they took what I thought was a standard "thanks for letting us host but we have no intention of winning two years in a row" song (Frans' "If I Were Sorry") and got it all the way to 5th place with the combined vote.  Sweden is a powerhouse of pop songwriting and production, so it's no surprise their entries always feel polished and ready for mass consumption.  Will Robin Bengtsson continue their pattern of winning the contest every few years?

I'm not getting as much of a Robin Thicke vibe from this as Ryan did ((although whoever's doing the styling for this NEEDS to stop making this Robin look so dang orange)), but I do miss the original f-bomb in the hook of the song.  I know there are Eurovision standards, but neutering this down to "freakin'" feels like when "Forget You" was a big summer hit - it's a little awkward, and any punch this had is completely diffused.  That said, the 80s vibe of the song feels right on trend with what's going on in pop, and even though it's a little cheesy overall, I see that as a good thing - Eurovision should be a little cheesy.

It definitely seems like the ESC planning committee has some faith in this song - it's kicking off the first semi-final.  This definitely seems like a smart move to me - assuming Sweden wants to stage this with a backstage walk-on like the video above, this plus the OK Go-aping treadmill acrobatics are a fantastic way to kick off the show.  This feels like a very memorable, dynamic performance, so that plus the reception this song's getting from Youtube viewers should make this an easy qualifier to the Eurovision finals.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Serbia — Tijana Bogićević — In Too Deep Tue, 18 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 ed9d1cac-a767-4624-9769-29482283adc3 "Serbia may have the song of the summer with Tijana Bogićević's "In Too Deep" but does that translate to Eurovision success?

Country: Serbia
Song Title: "In Too Deep"
Artist: Tijana Bogićević
Second Semi-Final: Position #1
Last year's entry: "Goodbye (Shelter)" - ZAA Sanja Vucic (18th Place)

Serbia has been embracing the pop music aspects of Eurovision the last couple years, moving toward English language dance tracks ad radio friendliness over the songcraft of entries like "Molitva" and the the oeuvre of Željko Joksimović. This year is no different, with what may be the most radio friendly track of the competition: "In Too Deep" by Tijana Bogićević.

If Eurovision were a "Song of the Summer" contest, "In Too Deep" would easily be in the top five. This song feels very 2017, from the choice of sound effects, the pseudo-poetic lyrics, and the power shifts between verse and chorus. The simplicity of the lyrics and delivery also make this an attractive karaoke jam, which adds to the appeal.

However, the above is somewhat damning with faint praise. Although the track is of its time (Spring 2017), there is no gravitas that gives it the timelessness of successful Eurovision entries. "Molitva" still gives chills, "Euphoria" opens the heart, and "Rise Like a Phoenix" will be a pride anthem for at least the next decade. "In Too Deep" is pleasant, but not particularly memorable in a world of disposable pop songs. The video reminds me of Estonia's 2014 entry "Amazing" which also had a contemporary dance motif but did not qualify to that year's final.

Although I'm not excited about this song as a Eurovision entry, Tijana Bogićević does have some advantages in her corner. First, Serbia has a near-flawless track record at the Contest, and goodwill counts for a lot. The song will kick off the less competitive second semi-final((Now even less competitive with Russia dropping out)), which means there are more spots up for grabs. Tijana Bogićević will be greeting televoters' ears at the beginning of every recap package during the voting window, which could be a HUGE booster.

I would be shocked if Serbia did not make the Eurovision Grand Final. However, I expect it to run into the same roadblocks Malta((The most 2016 song of the 2016 field)) did last year in the Final, with a lower than expected finish in the standings.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Azerbaijan — Dihaj — Skeletons Mon, 17 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 257e10c7-6d83-46df-a8b6-b3d2b6f8b48c "Dihaj's "Skeletons" has good bones, but will it be dynamic enough to ensure Azerbaijan a place in the ESC finals?

Country: Azerbaijan
Song Title: "Skeletons"
Artist: Dihaj
First Semi-Final: Position 8
Last year's entry: "Miracle" - Samra (17th Place)

After coming out of the gate strong with their first appearance in 2008, Azerbaijan's been having some wilderness years.  They haven't ever missed the finals since debuting, but in the past 3 years, they haven't cracked the top 10 after consistently placing in the top 5.  Azerbaijan always feels closest to Sweden in the way they practically manufacture Eurovision entries for maximum points, so this has to sting.  Does Dihaj's "Skeletons" have what it takes to get them back near the top of the competition?

I didn't have as much of an instant "love" of this song as Ryan did in his initial listen, but it's certainly grown on me as the field has filled out and the competition has moved along.  I definitely love the way this feels like S U R V I V E's work for Stranger Things, and there's a dark edge to this song that feels fresh in this semi-final of the competition.  But if there was any year Azerbaijan needed a non-packed semi-final, this would be it.

Dihaj is performing in between Finland and Portugal, and it couldn't be placed between two songs that are more tonally different from "Skeletons".  That'll definitely help, but I do worry that if the stage performance isn't more than the band performing the song, stronger visual performances will take it over.  I still think Azerbaijan is different enough to make the finals, but without some flash, they're sitting closer to the bubble than they'd probably like to be.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: North Macedonia — Jana Burčeska — Dance Alone Mon, 17 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 802c0a9e-bf18-497d-9df4-24bbd8c84109 "Let's hope that, wherever she goes, the rhythm follows.<!--more-->

Country: North Macedonia
Song Title: "Dance Alone"
Artist: Jana Burčeska
Second Semi-Final: Position #4
Last year's entry:Dona” — Kaliopi (DNQ - 11th Place, SF2)

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has the distinction of being a historically unsuccessful country at Eurovision, but not for lack of trying. In seventeen attempts, the Macedonians have notched nine DNQs, with the remaining eight performances netting an average Grand Final placement of 15th and a best finish of 12th. They've been particularly bad since 2008, with eight DNQs in the last nine years, including four in a row entering this year's contest. Can Jana Burčeska help her floundering country get back to the Grand Final stage?

"Dance Alone" is a great song to sing in the car on road trips, as my listening statistics would prove. I'm having a very hard time imagining how this song will succeed visually on the Eurovision stage, though. This is a cool music video, but as Ben pointed out, that's not the point of the contest. The entire purpose of this song is that the singer is isolated. In terms of staging, either you're forced to put her onstage by herself -- which based on some live footage I'm seeing, may not be the best idea((I'm not positive she's actually singing there? Or is she lip synching? I can't tell for certain.)) -- or your aesthetic ends up working at odds with the song's message instead of amplifying it. Eurovision isn't necessarily about making sense, and this song does have a catchy chorus and danceable beat for folks to latch onto. Making a statement on the day of the performance still matters, though, and I'm concerned the Macedonians may not be able to pull through in that context.

Looking at the rest of Thursday's semi-final, North Macedonia has a few dance / club numbers that are similar enough to provide the potential for competition. San Marino, Serbia, and Israel are a little more uptempo, though, and Lithuania doesn't have a real shot at qualifying through. That leaves Norway, which in my opinion is one of the best in this round. Their song is different enough, and the semi-final open enough, that there should be enough room for both songs to qualify. Jana Burčeska should also benefit from the performance order, which puts her close to the beginning, and serving as a dance break between the two more chill entries from Austria and Malta. All told, I'll expect to see North Macedonia performing for a second time during Saturday's Grand Final.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Montenegro — Slavko Kalezić — Space Fri, 14 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 f25c8934-c244-488e-b77c-51b75fa479c1 "Will Slavko Kalezić give Montenegro a well-deserved "Space" in the Eurovision Grand Final?

Country: Montenegro
Song Title: "Space"
Artist: Slavko Kalezić
First Semi-Final: Position #6
Last year's entry: "The Real Thing" - HIghway (DNQ - 13th Place, SF1)

One of the things I love about writing about Eurovision are the different rubrics of evaluation we use for countries and songs. We can't directly compare the apples of female power ballads to the oranges of disco funk Klezmer bands, nor is it helpful to compare the Military Industrial Pop Music Complex (aka Sweden) to the more traditional styles of central and eastern Europe.

Montenegro exists in a delightful place geographically and musically where it has no choice but to dance to the beat of its own drum, showcasing that dance for the rest of Europe and the world each May. This year's entry, "Space" by Slavko Kalezić, is the prime example of what Montenegro does best:

This might be the performance I am most looking forward to in Kyiv. As the video demonstrates, Slavko Kalezić has a strong point of view and aesthetic. Also, though this year's slate of entries is quite strong, it doesn't identify as queer as the last few years. The only other entry that comes close to being a gay anthem is San Marino's (which is thankfully in the other semi-final). I'm thrilled that the two smallest countries at the Contest are bringing the representation.

That being said, it isn't a slam dunk for Slavko Kalezić to get into the Grand Final. First, there are a lot of strong conventional entries in the first semi-final, so there aren't a lot of qualifying slots available once the shoo-ins are accounted for. Although it seems fair to expect performance art in the stage design((Oh please oh please oh please)), I'm concerned about Slavko Kalezić's performing ability. His performance at Eurovision in Concert in Amsterdam last weekend could have used a little more polish. Granted, it was a club show, but toward the end it looked like someone dancing around in their bedroom singing along to the radio.

As for the running order, Montenegro follows Belgium, which isn't ideal given how popular "City Lights" is. However, Finland follows Montenegro, so... sorry, Finland. I have a hunch the performance will be memorable enough without the recaps during the voting window, though I hope it's because it was AMAZING and not full of cringe.

I think there's space for "Space" in the Eurovision Grand Final, but Slavko Kalezić will need to slay to make it happen.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Ireland — Brendan Murray — Dying to Try Thu, 13 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 fe200646-0abb-4a37-93f9-782e3d31745d "We're "Dying to Try" to think of another singer that would elevate the entry Ireland's sending to Eurovision.

Country: Ireland
Song Title: "Dying to Try"
Artist: Brendan Murray
Second Semi-Final: Position 10
Last year's entry: "Sunlight" - Nicky Byrne (DNQ - 15th Place, SF2)

Ireland is far from its glory days in the Eurovision Song Contest.  They're still the winning-est nation with 7 total wins, but they haven't made the finals since 2013 and they placed dead last that year.  They've been floundering a bit in their selection strategy - what used to have a vote has gone fully internal, although they seem to be on a bit of a pattern in their choices.  Last year they picked a former boy bander (Nicky Byrne of Westlife) who had a mostly pleasant if bland entry, and I'm concerned they've done the same this year with Brendan Murray (formerly of Hometown)

Ireland, this is a lovely song but it should be sung by someone other than Brendan Murray.  He's got a lovely, wispy, tenor, but that whole wispiness thing is just wrong, wrong, wrong for this melody/chorus.  Either try to convince the EBU that Robbie Williams is actually Irish((and also convince Robbie Williams to be a Eurovision entry rather than an interval act), or convince Johnny Logan that what he needs is a fourth Eurovision trophy, or just drop the melody an octave and find some other crooner to nail this thing.  Brendan, you're a nice kid but this is not going to be the kickoff to your solo career's big break.

If there's one saving grace here, it's that the second semi-final isn't quite as stacked as the first this year, so this could possibly squeak in if it's close enough to the bubble.  Ireland is performing between Denmark and San Marino, acting as a quick down-tempo moment between some more active songs.  This could work in Ireland's favor if it's enough of a palate cleanser, but if the show they put on is as straightforward/bland as I suspect it might be, they're likely to still end up just outside the finals.  What's another year?

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Israel — IMRI — I Feel Alive Thu, 13 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 cb6f2312-29bc-4ac2-a6af-33902e8158f8 "Will Israel's Imri Ziv give you life when he closes the second Eurovision Semi-Final with "I Feel Alive"?

Country: Israel
Song Title: "I Feel Alive"
Artist: Imri Ziv
Second Semi-Final: Position #19
Last year's entry: "Made of Stars" - Hovi Star (14th Place)

Israel has found new life in the Eurovision Song Contest thanks to the Rising Star selection format. A four-year qualifying drought came to an end in 2015 with the winner of the Israeli singing competition managed to qualify and finish in ninth place in Vienna. Will Imri Ziv be able to keep that streak alive with "I Feel Alive"?

I want to like this song more than I do, but there's not a lot for this track to hang its hat on. The video does a good job as a marketing piece for the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce, but as Ben said, the song is super generic. Given how easy on the eyes Imri Ziv is, I know I was hoping for something with a little more sex appeal than a flash mob mixed with shoutouts to the performer's former role as a Eurovision backing singer.

I don't think all is lost, however. Israel will be closing out the semi-final, which suggests that the producers think there will be something in the stage performance worthy of ending the show. Israel will be following Estonia, which just as easily could have been a good button for the semi-final. As long as the performance isn't a retread of other beachy, song of summer performances (France's 2010 entry immediately jumps to mind), Imri Ziv could be in good shape.

I freely admit that I've been wrong about Israel offering an underwhelming entry that does surprisingly well in the competition. The second semi-final has a much larger bubble for qualifying, so a compelling performance could be enough to get "I Feel Alive" to the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week #5: Pre-Party Thu, 13 Apr 2017 03:00:00 -0500 cdcc05e1-ddac-4f7d-ac11-0e9be6c88dc7 "There has been some shuffling in the standings for YouTube views for this year's Eurovision Song Contest entries. Is it too early to declare a favorite?


The last couple weeks featured a few Eurovision pre-party events in London, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, and Riga, with Madrid hosting one this weekend. Despite these events, there wasn't a major spike in viewership on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

First Semi-Final

Top Spots

Sweden's Robin Bengtsson is starting to run away from the rest of the field, with "I Can't Go On" approaching 3 million views. If he hasn't crossed that mark by next week, he'll be very close. Belgium's Blanche is still on track to hit 3 million, but it will be a couple weeks before "City Lights" reaches that milestone. Australia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia round out the top five for this semi, both in total viewers and views for this week.

Big Moves

Georgia finally dropped its new video for "Keep the Faith" and managed to pull itself out of the bottom of the rankings this week. Slovenia, which dropped its video for "On My Way" last week, has almost matched the number of views its previous video achieved in half the time.

You in danger, girl

Although Czech Republic has held steady in views from week to week, Martina Bárta's "My Turn" had the fewest views at 30,600 and currently sits as the least-viewed video of the semi-final. Finland is also sitting behind Georgia, which was last week's low bar to clear.

Second Semi-Final

Top Spots

"Beautiful Mess" by Bulgaria's Kristian Kostov managed to move into first place, with 265,000 views pushing him beyond the 2 million mark. The new official video probably helped. Julia Samoylova also crossed the 2 million mark this week as Russia's status in this year's Contest is still up in the air.((Editor's Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.))

Big Moves

Next week, the top position will probably be held by Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson of San Marino, whose "Spirit of the Night" added another 536,000 views. At this pace, San Marino will probably hit 2 million by this weekend and could be giving Sweden a run for its money in two weeks. FYR Macedonia and Serbia rounded out the top five for the second semi in both weekly views and total viewers.

You in danger, girl

The "Rain of Revolution" doesn't seem to be catching on, as Lithuania's entry has a low water mark of 272,000 views and only 25,000 views this week. Malta is also on the rocks, as "Breathlessly" is sitting on 284,000 views and only 27,000 views this week.

The Auto-Qualifiers

France added another 200,000 views to its tally this week, keeping Alma's "Requiem" ahead of the pack with 1.5 million views total. Italy -- the favorite to win this year -- added 127,000 views to the abridged version of "Occidentali's Karma", which will likely cross the 1 million views mark in a couple weeks. Ukraine's entry "Time" had the fewest views of any entry this week, adding only 23,400 clicks to its tally.

YouTube viewership figures are based on surveying the official Eurovision channel videos between 8pm and 8:30pm Eastern on Wednesdays."

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Belgium — Blanche — City Lights Wed, 12 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 78443b3d-b218-4b24-823c-c745a5fe552a "Can Belgium find a way to help Blanche light up the stage at the Eurovision finals?

Country: Belgium
Song Title: "City Lights"
Artist: Blanche
First Semi-Final: Position 5
Last year's entry: "What's the Pressure" - Laura Tesoro (10th Place)

Belgium's on a good run with their last few entries in the Eurovision Song Contest - Loic Notet placed 4th a few years ago, and they managed to cling to the top 10 last year with Laura Tesoro's "What's the Pressure".  Belgium seems to have a good finger on the pulse of what's going on in pop music and filtering that into their entry.  They're going to need it this year, as they're in a very stacked semifinal.  With performance neighbors like Albania and Montenegro, does Blanche's "City Lights" have the oomph it needs to guarantee a final slot?

On a purely personal level, I really like this song.  It has a trance/trip-hop vibe that works, and Blanche's flat vocal affect reminds me of Jem/Dido in a way that I haven't seen at the ESC before.  The song's structure feels unusual, too - it's less verse-chorus-verse than chorus - bridge - chorus - bridge - chorus.  I wonder if the backing here is doing a little too much of the work here - I want to see how this gets interpreted in a live setting before I really boost it to the top of my list of semifinal 1 favorites.  Unfortunately, Blanche is the one artist that had to cancel for Eurovision in Concert, so I don't know how this plays live, or more importantly, how it's received.

My big fear with this one is that it's not as popular as Ryan and I think it is with Europe, and a dull live performance manages to keep this just out of the finals.  This is a song where playing with the camera equipment available could really sell this - match the "floating orb" vibe of the video with some dynamic camerawork and it'll let Blanche do her straightforward singing thing without somehow making this boring.  I really want to hedge my bets on this one - my musical taste doesn't fully overlap with what does well at Eurovision, and I have a sneaking suspicion this may be more to my preference level than the rest of Europe

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Czech Republic — Martina Bárta — My Turn Wed, 12 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 a9ba4c86-33bc-4eaa-b40b-4324a03de161 "We want Martina Bárta's "My Turn" to do well at Eurovision, but could a bad draw mean game over?

Country: Czech Republic
Song Title: "My Turn"
Artist: Martina Bárta
First Semi-Final: Position #14
Last year's entry: "I Stand" - Gabriela Gunčíková (25th Place)

The Czech Republic finally broke through the semi-finals last year, qualifying for the Eurovision Grand Final for the first time in five attempts. They even got jury love from a handful of countries, including 10 points from Croatia, in last year's competition. Unfortunately, their entry did not connect with the home audience, resulting in nil points from televotes.((Though Czech Republic did finish ahead of Germany, so...)) Will Martina Bárta be able to keep the momentum going now that it is "My Turn"?

I share Ryan's optimism that this song could be a contender in Kyiv. Initially, I found myself troubled by the impatience of the song. The first verse has only two lines before moving on to the bridge, which creates the illusion that this song is a collection of hooks with nothing to hang on them. But upon further listens, I realized that's part of the story -- Martina Bárta is so eager to be the one to support the subject of her song that she's rushing to take her turn. Despite the eagerness, she is able to find enough restraint to avoid belting or crazy power notes or unearned key changes. Martina Bárta has chill, y'all, and I respect that.

Oh, how I wish this song were in the second semi-final instead of the first. Although this song is in the second half and away from all the powerhouses of this year's Contest, there are fewer qualifying slots up for grabs for songs that are more on the bubble than others. Czech Republic is positioned between Iceland and Cyprus, which isn't optimal but it could have been much worse -- such as thanklessly serving as the palate cleanser for the first half. That role may be going to Portugal, and I'm bummed that it is somewhat unlikely that both songs will be able to qualify.

The juries may appreciate having a subtle, less bombastic performance in this semi-final and could throw points toward the Czech Republic. As far as audience votes go, it could be tricky. The good news is that a number of the countries in this semi-final awarded points to Czech Republic last year in both the semi and the Grand Final, so Europe is at least receptive to what the country has to offer.

"My Turn" should go to the Grand Final, but Martina Bárta is currently the mayor of the first semi-final's bubble.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Australia — Isaiah Firebrace — Don't Come Easy Tue, 11 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 6f4acbf6-be2e-4f8b-b408-5a25d811320f "If Australia doesn't earn a permanent spot with this entry, I don't even know what the point of the contest is.<!--more-->

Country: Australia
Song Title: "Don't Come Easy"
Artist: Isaiah Firebrace
First Semi-Final: Position #3
Last year's entry:Sound of Silence” — Dami Im (2nd Place)

To celebrate the 60th edition of Eurovision, Australia -- a country in which the song contest is routinely broadcast on TV to millions of viewers -- was allowed to appear, and automatically qualified into the Final, during a "one-time participation" opportunity. In 2016, Australia was allowed to return for a second time, but forced to qualify through the semi-final rounds. No matter: they won their qualifying round, dominated the Grand Final jury vote, and despite landing in fourth place with televoters, very nearly ran away with the top prize. Will the third time be the charm for Australia, either in winning the contest or securing a permanent spot?

This entry is another perfect example of why the EBU should just go ahead and grant Australia permanent member status instead of doing this one-year-at-a-time nonsense. 17-year old Isaiah Firebrace, winner of last year's The X Factor Australia, is practically perfect in every way. So is this entry. He's charmingly gorgeous, his voice is amazing, this song is beautiful, and if the last two years are any indication, their stage performance will be flawless. Bookmakers have him sitting around 8th place in the first semi-final, but I have to believe that's solely due to the strength of the other entries. (Just try to rank Azerbaijan, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, and Armenia while still feeling good about yourself. I certainly couldn't.)

There's one other thing here that's important to point out. Australia is very quietly amassing one of the most diverse contestant pools of any country in the contest. In addition to being people of color, Guy Sebastian and Dami Im are immigrants (from Malaysia and South Korea, respectively). Isaiah Firebrace is Australian-born, and has indigenous ancestry. So does Jessica Mauboy, who did not compete in 2014, but staged an interval act literally begging to be let into the contest. Eurovision is not about politics((Except when it is.)), but in the current global political climate, making these specific selections (and they ARE internal selections not subject to popular opinion) is no small thing. What I'm saying is: I see you, Australia, and I'm here for it.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Greece — Demy — This is Love Tue, 11 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 179becc7-e9b0-4983-a927-8f3dff216580 "Greece falls back on a Eurovision standby with Demy's "This Is Love" - will Europe love it enough to send it to the finals?

Country: Greece
Song Title: "This Is Love"
Artist: Demy
First Semi-Final: Position 10
Last year's entry: "Utopian Land" - Argo (DNQ - 16th Place, SF1)

Last year, for the first time since 2004 (when semi-finals were introduced), Greece missed the Eurovision finals.  That's a pretty big deal - no matter how much I've thought their songs have been overrated, it always seemed inevitable that Greece made the finals because they had the voting bloc to back them up.  With that potentially no longer the case, that's definitely got to leave them feeling desperate to get back into the good graces of the voting viewers.  Is Demy's "This Is Love" enough to get them there?

If you're trying to get into the Eurovision finals, there are worse ways to try than sending a generic Eurodance ballad.  This is almost a little too generic - this feels like it would soundtrack a Mary Kay or Payless commercial 2-3 years ago((and the red text in this video reeeeeally doesn't stop this from feeling like a Gap or Target ad)).  Mike seemed to feel similarly about it in his first listen, and I wouldn't say my ardor for this song has grown any since it debuted.

Here's the deal, though: as with so many of Greece's many entries over the years, I'd say a solid performance of this song is all that may be needed to get it through to the finals.  The first semi-final is packed with really good songs, but knowing the various voting blocs, I'd say only 7 or 8 feel like solid locks for the finals.  That leaves 2 or 3 slots for nations like Greece (whose song may not be as good as, say, Montenegro((I SAID IT))) with a strong performance and stronger voting block((seriously, who keeps putting Greece and Cyprus in the same semi-final?)).  I'm going to roll my eyes when this makes it, but it's that predictable.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Portugal — Salvador Sobral — Amar Pelos Dois Mon, 10 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 232c3d59-eb42-4bac-880a-76a7e69dab18 "A brother and sister duo may provide Portugal with their first Grand Final appearance of the decade.<!--more-->

Country: Portugal
Song Title: "Amar Pelos Dois"
Artist: Salvador Sobral
First Semi-Final: Position #9
Last year's entry: None

Portugal holds the record for most appearances in the Eurovision Song Contest without a win, and the past few years have been particularly terrible on that front. Since 2000, Portugal has skipped the contest entirely four times and failed to qualify into the final another eight times. Of the five times they've gone to the Grand Final, their average placement is 17th, but they haven't gotten there at all since 2010. After a break last year, the Portuguese are sending a song written by Berklee College of Music alum Luisa Sobral and performed by her brother Salvador. Will Eurovision viewers feel the love for these two, and send them to perform on Saturday?

Ben recently described this song as "a beautiful, delicate flower that will be curbstomped by the competition." I agree that it's beautiful and delicate, but I'm not so sure about the last part. Last year, ZÖE not only qualified into the Grand Final, but finished 13th, well above where many of us predicted she'd land. "Amar Pelos Dois" has the same optimism "Loin d'ici" brought to the stage, with the added bonus of Salvador Sobral's effortlessly silky-smooth voice. When you listen to the music video above, keep in mind that Sobral is singing without working monitors, and while suffering a hernia (which accounts for the shabby appearance Mike noted). I can't wait to see what he can do when he can hear himself clearly and isn't in major abdominal pain.

A potential problem is Portugal's performance spot. They're in the first semi-final, which at this juncture appears to be the stronger of the two, and they'll take the stage ninth. That's right in the middle of the order, after Azerbaijan, who looks to be a very strong contender this year. Following Portugal, however, are several entries that are either not very strong contenders (Greece, Poland), or have a much more typical sound for the contest and won't pose direct competition (Moldova, Iceland). This is far from a unanimous endorsement, and I don't think Portugal is one of the strongest entries in the contest, but I do expect them to qualify comfortably.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Romania — Ilinca feat. Alex Florea — Yodel It! Mon, 10 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 f5d76e6d-936d-47c6-ab1d-ae87cb2a8f31 "It feels like Romania has what it takes to "Yodel" their way to the final, but can Ilinca and Alex Florea crack the Eurovision top 10?

Country: Romania
Song Title: "Yodel It!"
Artist: Ilinca feat. Alex Florea
Second Semi-Final: Position 6
Last year's entry: "Moment of Silence" - Ovidiu Anton (DNQ - It's Complicated)

Romania always seems to bring the drama to Eurovision, whether it's an opera singer, holograms and circle pianos, or a song that's about social issues like migrant workers.  And then last year, they were the drama, when Ovidiu Anton was denied the chance to perform in the second semifinal when Romania was forced to pull out due to non-payment of debts to the EBU.  They're back this year, with a song that brings enough energy to make up for last year's last-second benching, Ilinca and Alex Florea's "Yodel It!":

I'm slightly confused by the crediting of artists here((Alex is featured, but seems to be doing more singing that Ilinca over the course of the song.  Yes, she's handling the titular yodeling, but it still seems backwards)), but overall I like this song.  It's upbeat and energetic, even if the yodeling reminds me a LOT of "Cowboy Sweetheart"((Side note: I once took part in a county fair talent show where a full FIVE people were singing Leann Rhimes' take on "Cowboy Sweetheart".  It was one of those things that goes funny -> sad -> funny.)) at times.  I find the lyrics more than a little generic - it's very "Love Love, Peace Peace" in tone and message, but there's more than a little truth in that joke and Eurovision success.

The performance for this is...fine?  I can't think of anything I'd add or remove for the Eurovision finals (other than Alex's weird dread man bun and getting Ilinca a dress that doesn't look like a repurposed Sexy Leprechaun's Hat costume).  Romania's definitely lucked out with a Second Semifinal placement - the first semifinal is stacked with enough killer entries that this could get pushed out of the running, while the second is a little more open in the running.  They're performing right between Malta and the Netherlands, both of whom have differently-toned entries that will help everybody stand out in the running.  I think Romania has what it takes to make the finals with this, but if the first semifinal is as strong as I think it is, they may get pushed out of the top 10 in the finals.  This is competent, but you need to be more than competent to win.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Estonia — Koit Toome & Laura — Verona Fri, 07 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 3e876794-8308-45b7-9316-3690141cd1ab "Can Estonia avoid the tragedy of absolute last place with "Verona"?

Country: Estonia
Song Title: "Verona"
Artist: Koit Toome & Laura
Second Semi-Final: Position #18
Last year's entry: "Play" - Juri Pootsmann (DNQ - 18th Place, SF1 - Absolute Last Place)

Estonia has nowhere to go but up after finishing in dead last in last year's Eurovision semi-finals. Although "Play" is a fantastic song, poor staging choices and a lackluster performance completely sunk that entry. Can "Verona" by Koit Toome & Laura reverse the Baltic country's fortunes?

Hmmm, welllll.......

Okay, here's the thing. Estonia has been sending rather somber entries the last few years. Though the tempo and tone sounds a little upbeat, "Verona" has the same doomed romance vibe as 2015's "Goodbye to Yesterday" by Elina and Stig. Though this track is radio friendly, the song is still kind of a downer. There hasn't been much traction for this song on YouTube, but that could be a function of the video not being overly interesting and the song available on Spotify.

The advantage here is that both Koit Toome & Laura have Eurovision experience. Toome represented Estonia in 1998 while Laura was part of the group Suntribe, which participated in 2005. Although the Contest has changed significantly in the intervening years, knowing the ropes should allow for a slightly stronger performance.

Also working in Estonia's favor: placement in the running order. Estonia will perform just after Lithuania and right before Israel, the last act of the semi-final. Of the three songs, this one has the clearest story and leaves a much bigger impression in terms of vocals and musicality. The second half of the second semi-final is not stacked with powerhouses((they're all in the first semi-final)), so there's more of a fighting chance.

Although I don't think Estonia has a shot at winning Eurovision, I don't think a trip to the Grand Final is out of the question.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Netherlands — O'G3NE — Lights and Shadows Fri, 07 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 9c06b478-8f7d-43c2-b495-9f12fae249df "These sisters should enjoy more lights than shadows on their way to the Grand Final.<!--more-->

Country: Netherlands
Song Title: "Lights and Shadows"
Artist: O'G3NE
Second Semi-Final: Position #7
Last year's entry:Slow Down” — Douwe Bob (11th Place)

After failing to qualify into the Grand Final between 2005 and 2012, Netherlands has come roaring back with three top-eleven finishes in four years. They've been good enough over this span, including finishing second with the excellent "Calm After the Storm" in 2014, that we can almost even forgive them for #DressGate2015.((Almost.)) Can a trio of sisters capture that country-music momentum to waltz into the Grand Final once again?

Mike did a great job of recapping all the things -- and there are a LOT of things -- going on with this song. What he sees as over-production, though, I see as appropriately accessorizing a successful Eurovision entry.((Can't decide which decade's style to pull from? Use them all!)) I particularly enjoy how clear their voices are in the recording, and that the trio maintains one cohesive sound instead of reverting to the standard soloist-with-backing-harmony setup. Viewers who find the studio version a little too in-your-face might be heartened to hear how live performances sound. Whether it's less processing, different mics, or perhaps a combination or the two, O'G3NE sounds amazing live, with a totally different tone than the official recording.((I did find one performance that had some pitch issues, but in the first 30 seconds of that video you can see every member of the trio trying to discreetly adjust their earpieces. So, not their fault.))

In addition to raw talent, O'G3NE will enjoy some logistical advantages at the Contest. In particular: they'll sing in the second semi-final, which is less stacked with heavy favorites than the first, they're the only trio in the entire Contest this year, and nobody else's song sounds like this one.  Right now the bookies have Netherlands' odds of winning at 40:1, which puts them above the middle of the pack, and they're sixth-highest in YouTube views for the second semi-final. Perhaps it's the Wilson Phillips fan in me, but given everything I see, this entry seems like an easy qualifier into the Grand Final. I certainly hope to see them there.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Croatia — Jacques Houdek — My Friend Thu, 06 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 52c2692c-a2be-4ab8-a46e-6ee881dc282b "How on Earth is Croatia's Jacques Houdek going to perform "My Friend" on the live Eurovision stage?

Country: Croatia
Song Title: "My Friend"
Artist: Jacques Houdek
Second Semi-Final: Position #12
Last year's entry: "Lighthouse" - Nina Kraljic (23rd Place)

After a lengthy hiatus--preceded by an even lengthier drought in qualifying for the Grand Final--Croatia returned to the Eurovision Song Contest last year with the perfectly pleasant "Lighthouse." That song managed to sneak into the top 10 of its semi-final but didn't quite catch on in the full field, ending up in 23rd place. Has Croatia learned what works and what doesn't over the last several years?

... Croatia, honey, let's chat.

I think I understand what Croatia is trying to do here. They're using the runner-up from their last national final, though that was back in 2011.((For the record, I still think Jacques Houdek should have won, though Daria Kinser did what she could with "Celebrate".)) "My Friend" is verrrrrry Eurovision-y, with its message of "Love Love Peace Peace" and a swelling arrangement. None of this is objectionable, it just isn't very interesting.

What is interesting are the vocal choices. Switching between English and Italian seems like an exercise in racking up technical points in a competition with a different scoring mechanism than the Contest.

What I am most concerned about: how on Earth is this going to be staged? As you hear at the end of the track, the English and Italian are overlapping. Presumably part of that will be delegated to a backing singer, but won't that lose some of the intended effect? Also, how will Jacques Houdek switch between both parts? Not just vocally--which is enough of a challenge--but visually? So far our theories include:

  • Taking glasses on and off, a la Clark Kent/Superman
  • Dressing like one of those street performers that's wearing half of a tuxedo and half of a wedding dress
  • Those awful hologram teleporter images Romania used in 2014 and Iceland used last year

As for how Croatia will do at Eurovision this year... it's gonna be tough. The video is one of the least-viewed of this year's contestants, though the new video that dropped this week gave viewership a bump. The track isn't all that radio-friendly, either. Croatia is sandwiched between the kitschy and catchy entry from San Marino and potential SF2 frontrunner Norway, which is not going to help "My Friend".

Success is going to come down to performance. Clever execution is required, and if Jacques Houdek can deliver, Croatia could be a surprise at Eurovision.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Cyprus — Hovig — Gravity Thu, 06 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 3ff23ccc-3d13-4063-b03e-d17ff501c15f "Can Hovig help Cyprus fly high in semi-final 1 of the Eurovision Song Contest, or will they be sunk by their own "Gravity"?

Country: Cyprus
Song Title: "Gravity"
Artist: Hovig
First Semi-Final: Position 15
Last year's entry: "Alter Ego" - Minus One (8th Place)

I have to say, I was shocked at how well Cyprus did with last year's "Alter Ego". I thought the song was just okay, but the stage performance they put on really elevated it and made use of the resources available to make a good show. That seemed to be enough to do the job - they finished their semi-final in 8th place, though they petered out in the final, finishing in 21st of 26 overall.  Is this year's entry, Hovig's "Gravity", more likely to succeed?

As Mike noted in his first listen of this song, Cyprus has wisely paired again with Thomas G:son, who generally turns out some quality Eurovision writing year after year, this song included.  There's something that feels Mediterranean in the beat and instrumentation of the song, which mixes with the pop-rock vibe to a good effect.

When this song was announced, it was in the middle of selection season, with over half of the field still to be revealed. Now that we know that it's in (a fairly stacked) Semi-final 1, I still think this has what it takes to make the final.  In the back half of the first Semi, Cyprus is performing between the Czech Republic and Armenia, neither of whom really stood out for me.  In the larger view, it's also near Slovenia, another male-led mid-tempo song that it easily outpaces. It still feels too early to tell if they're a lock for something like the top 10 of the competition, but I think Cyprus has what it takes to nail the finals and out-do last year's performance.

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week #4: Running Order and New Videos Thu, 06 Apr 2017 02:00:00 -0500 c90565dc-e0ee-4dc3-bd14-029c5d3c0a02 "Will new videos boost viewership numbers for some of the underperforming countries on the Eurovision YouTube channel?


We have a running order! The playlists have been adjusted accordingly by Eurovision, though no significant changes in viewing behavior have emerged yet.

Three videos have dropped since last week's check-in:

  • Slovenia's Omar Naber introduced us to a pop-and-lock matador for an updated version of "On My Way"
  • Bulgaria's Kristian Kostov has a video for "Beautiful Mess", though it hasn't been added to the Eurovision YouTube page at the time of this writing.
  • Croatia's "My Friend" will get you Eurovision bingo in about 30 seconds.

Slovenia's video is the only one to have been placed in the Eurovision semi-final playlists. Our numbers will include views of the old video up until Friday, when the new video dropped. Croatia's new video is on the Eurovision channel, but the old video is still in the playlist. Both videos' views are counted for this week's total, but once the new video is added to the playlist, the number of views for the old video will be locked. Bulgaria is not on the Eurovision channel yet, so numbers only include the lyric video.

First Semi-Final

Top Spots

The top three have remained unchanged: Sweden, Belgium, and Australia. The first two have surpassed two million views, with Sweden claiming the most views for the week.

Big Moves

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Cyprus all crossed the one million view mark, with Armenia ranking third for this semi-final's views this week.

You in danger, girl

Surprise, it's still Georgia at the bottom of the pile, both in this semi-final and overall. DROP YOUR VIDEO.

Second Semi-Final

Top Spots

The controversy surrounding Russia's participation((Editor's Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.)) has kept "Flame is Burning" in the top spot, but Bulgaria is very close behind. Russia currently has 1,780,000 views, but "Beautiful Mess" has 1,773,000. FYR Macedonia remains in third, Serbia in fourth, and San Marino is now comfortably in fifth place for this semi.

Big Moves

Bulgaria closed the gap with Russia by pulling in more than 360,000 views this week. Russia and San Marino round out the top three.

You in danger, girl (and guy)

Estonia and Lithuania are sharing basement quarters this week. Although Estonia is the least watched video in the second semi-final, it does rank ahead of three videos in the first semi-final. Lithuania has the least watched video of the semi-final this week, pulling in only 26,000 views.

The Auto-Qualifiers

No big news to report. France continues to chug along as the most watched video of the Big Five with just under 250,000 views this week. Ukraine has the least watched video of the auto-qualifiers overall and this week, with only a handful more views than Lithuania.

YouTube viewership figures are based on surveying the official Eurovision channel videos between 8pm and 8:30pm Eastern on Wednesdays."

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Austria — Nathan Trent — Running on Air Wed, 05 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 6861d9da-48fc-4079-b2dc-e8de35dcc072 "A throwback sound may not be enough to get Austria back to the Grand Final.

Country: Austria
Song Title: "Running on Air"
Artist: Nathan Trent
Second Semi-Final: Position #2
Last year's entry:Loin d’ici” — ZOË (13th Place)

After a string of failures to participate or qualify, Austria has been on fire the last few years at Eurovision in both good and bad ways. In 2014, Conchita Wurst surprised everyone by rising like a phoenix during semi-final week and taking home the Grand Final win. The very next year, the Makemakes set a piano on fire and ended up tied for last place with the dreaded nul points. Last year in Stockholm, ZOË surprised many by making the Grand Final stage, instead of expected qualifiers like Iceland and Greece. Can Nathan Trent buck his country's trend and perform on the contest's final evening?

I don't want to like this entry, but Trent's voice is ridiculously smooth, and as Ben pointed out, it checks a bunch of boxes from the early/mid-2000s Jason Mraz playbook. Based on a couple of live videos, I have no concerns about his ability to nail the song itself. His performance, though, both in the music video and in live situations, treads right on the line between charming and smarmy. I thought the same thing about two entries last year; Donny Martell ended up charming Lithuania into the top ten, while Jüri Pootsmann's smarm landed Estonia in dead last place.

Checking out the competition, the biggest direct concern for Austria is going to be Norway, who is also sending a solo male vocalist with a smooth and pretty voice. Norway's two big advantages are performing later in the semi-final, and sounding much more modern. There are several other strong male vocalists performing on Thursday, though, including Hungary and Bulgaria. All three of those countries have a better package than Austria does, and although we keep talking about how the second semi-final is weaker than the first, there's still not much room for a song that isn't compelling. I'd be surprised to see this song qualify.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Latvia — Triana Park — Line Wed, 05 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 73e19477-ad02-4add-bdd0-4d2da909f98e "Is Triana Park's "Line" too one-dimensional to take Latvia to the Eurovision Song Contest final?

Country: Latvia
Song Title: "Line"
Artist: Triana Park
First Semi-Final: Position 18
Last year's entry: "Heartbeat" - Justs (15th Place)

For the past few years, Latvia's reigned as the alt-pop kings of Eurovision.  Aminata's "Love Injected" and Justs' "Heartbeat" (written by Aminata) set the standard for Latvia as a nation that was finding a way to blend pop songcraft with more experimental structures and melodies.  It's definitely been a better tack for them to take than being the "Cake to Bake" people again.  This year's entry, Triana Park's "Line", seems to follow in those same footsteps - does Latvia face decreasing returns by going to the same well again?

Like Mike, I'm digging the college radio approach Latvia's taken the past few years with their entries, but this one doesn't quite do it for me.  I like the build of this, but there's not much to this song beyond its hook of "tell me babe oh where we draw the line".  I'd love for there to be just slightly more to the song, even if it totally earns the breakdown it builds up to.

Triana Park's got a clearly defined visual aesthetic that, despite my reservations about the song, seems like it will serve them well on the Eurovision stage.  The official video for the song has great energy and color, and if the band can match it's highly developed visuals for the live performance, with the semifinal-closing position they have, a memorable performance there could lock them in for the final for sure.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Moldova — SunStroke Project — Hey Mamma Tue, 04 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 dd1575df-3e0e-43f2-8f13-02722cd7c014 "Will Epic Sax Guy be able to get Moldova its first trip to the Eurovision Grand Final in four years?

Country: Moldova
Song Title: "Hey Mamma"
Artist: SunStroke Project
First Semi-Final: Position 12
Last year's entry: "Falling Stars" - Lidia Isac (DNQ - 17th Place, SF1)

Moldova has been lost for the last few years at Eurovision. Either the songs are a misfire (2014's entry, which Ryan still disavows) or end up with a bad draw in the running order (2015's pyrotechnic stripper cops opening up that year's first semi-final). Perhaps sending an act that has made it to the Grand Final before -- and became an instant gif sensation -- will pull the former SSR out of its slump?

I will almost always root for Moldova, but I have to admit I think this song may be on the bubble. The song has been placed in position 12, so it's pretty much in the middle of the running order between Poland (eh) and Iceland (eh). While neither of those songs should overshadow "Hey Mamma", I don't think they necessarily complement the track.

This track is also interesting in that the instrumentation is minimal to the point that this song is almost a capella. The saxophone is the most prominent instrument, and will probably be heavily featured in the performance.((Running man or GTFO.)) However, we have grown so used to Moldova being bombastic in their songs and presentation, I have to wonder if SunStroke Project will be able to realign our expectations.

Although the first semi-final this year has a strong field, most of the power players are in the first half. This could be Moldova's saving grace, as a memorable performance could be enough to carry SunStroke Project through with televoters. We've got our fingers crossed for ya!

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Denmark— Anja Nissen — Where I Am Tue, 04 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 7c94d65e-7fc5-4b3c-8a2b-973b147cf261 "In a semi-final stacked with solo female vocalists, Denmark must find a way to stand out.<!--more-->

Country: Denmark
Song Title: "Where I Am"
Artist: Anja Nissen
Second Semi-Final: Position #9
Last year's entry:Soldiers of Love” — Lighthouse X (DNQ - 17th Place, SF2)

After winning the contest in 2013 with Emmelie de Forest's "Only Teardrops," Denmark has had a mixed few years. They remained in the top ten in 2014, finishing in 9th, then failed to qualify in the last two contests. Will moving away from the boy-band concept, and back a solo female vocalist, help the Danes return to the Grand Final in Kyiv?

Ben found this song growing on him, and I have to agree. The very beginning -- tight harmonies from the backing singers -- is strong and compelling, then quickly give way to a first verse and bridge that are politely described as "meh." The first chorus is worth it, though, as Anja manages to sound both strong and vulnerable at the top of her range. The second verse gives her a little more room to be interesting, and then we skip the bridge and head directly into the chorus, which is the best part of the song. (I have complained in the past about Eurovision songs that have no verses; for this entry I'd actually be okay with that.)

As one of several solo female acts in the second semi-final, how does Anja stack up? She'll benefit from being ninth in the performance order; Serbia, Russia, FYR Macedonia, and Malta all perform in the first five slots, and there are a few acts between to act as palate cleansers. Only Switzerland and Lithuania (the latter of whom is not really a contender) perform later, which will help her stick in viewers' memory. She'll also benefit from being in the slightly weaker semi-final. But even with those caveats, Denmark seems on the bubble. A strong, well-crafted performance will probably see them land in the Grand Final, but with so much direct competition there's not much room for error.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Slovenia — Omar Naber — On My Way Mon, 03 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0500 1745dd11-35f6-4c9e-9ff0-e766aec653c3 "Slovenia seems on their "Way" down the wrong path for Eurovision glory.

Country: Slovenia
Song Title: "On My Way"
Artist: Omar Naber
First Semi-Final: Position 17
Last year's entry: "Blue and Red" - Manuella (DNQ - 14th Place, SF2)

Slovenia doesn't have a great record in the last decade or so of the Eurovision Song Contest.  Of those entries, the one that did the best, 2011's "No One" (which placed 3rd in the final!) I literally could not recall or bring to mind.  This is because my brain already reserved that space for Christina Aguilera's "Fighter"((I promise this is a sick burn.  Okay, maybe not a sick burn, but it's definitely a diss.)).  I loved 2015's "Here For You", which finished 5th, but that one got lost in the shuffle when the final show rolled around.  I'm saying their entries tend to be a little off from whatever the rest of Europe tends to think is going on, including last year's "Blue and Red", which went hard on the whole country-twang thing when the frontrunners were all more modern ballads.  Does Omar Naber's "On My Way" right the ship at all?

Oh, man, you guys, I do not have a lot of positive things to say about this one.  Mike had the same unimpressed reaction, but this entire song reminded me of a middle-of-the-road karaoke performance.  I'm going to be generous here and assume Omar is singing his heart out here, but this sort of feels like someone is singing a song at karaoke that's clearly their favorite but they just don't have the vocal range to do justice to.  This song is calling for bombast and a deep, powerful voice, and homeboy just doesn't have that.

The video for the song adds another element to the mix with whatever breakdancing toreador thing it's decided to do, but it feels about as incongruous as Omar's voice to this song and doesn't really help it out.  Looking at their positioning in the finals, Slovenia's currently placed near the end of semifinal 1 between Armenia and Latvia, both of which feel like they're designed for much more dynamic live performances that could completely drown this one out if it's not careful.  In a particularly stacked semifinal, I think Slovenia's an easy out.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Malta — Claudia Faniello — Breathlessly Mon, 03 Apr 2017 05:00:00 -0500 106b5634-4fbf-401c-9474-697cb930883b ""Breathlessly" by Malta's Claudia Faniello is a lovely entry for Eurovision, but is that enough?

Country: Malta
Song Title: "Breathlessly"
Artist: Claudia Faniello
Second Semi-Final: Position 5
Last year's entry: "Walk on Water" - Ira Losco (12th Place)

Malta is repping for the powerful ladysinger ballads at this year's Eurovision Song Contest with "Breathlessly" by Claudia Faniello. How is the execution of this track?

This song hasn't made much of an impression on me, and I've been trying to figure out why. There's nothing to dislike about the track: the lyrics are fine, the pace could be a little faster but it certainly isn't plodding, and Faniello's voice is perfectly pleasant to listen to. It's taken a few listens in preparation for this piece to finally figure out what isn't working for me: this should be a country song.

Imagine if the strings in the orchestration were replaced with a guitar. This could easily be a hit song on this side of the Atlantic and an instant karaoke staple with even a slight hint of a twang. I fully understand why "Breathlessly" isn't a country song:

  1. Country isn't Claudia Faniello's lane. Granted, I don't think she would have to change much vocally with a slightly different arrangement, but the style could be outside of her comfort zone.
  2. Country very rarely works at Eurovision.((See Slovenia 2016 for similar heartbreak.))

So, how could Malta fare in Kyiv? "Breathlessly" is positioned between the poptronic "Dance Alone" (FYR Macedonia) and Romania's yodel/rap.((Yap?)) I don't think the song will have trouble standing out between those two entries, but Claudia Faniello performs rather early in the lineup. There's a lot of energy and crowd favorites filling out the second half of the second semi-final, which will be a tough challenge to overcome. For Malta's sake I hope the performance is more than Faniello standing center stage in a lovely gown as sparklers rain down at the key change, because that is not going to be memorable.

Unless Claudia Faniello can give the performance of her life with epic precision, I wouldn't hold my breath for "Breathlessly" to take Malta to the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Poland — Kasia Moś — Flashlight Fri, 31 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 507ca4d1-206d-42e3-a04b-6d59e397d67d "Can Poland put together back-to-back strong finishes for the first time ever?<!--more-->

Country: Poland
Song Title: "Flashlight"
Artist: Kasia Moś
First Semi-Final: Position #11
Last year's entry:Color of Your Life” — Michał Szpak (8th Place)

Last year's Polish entry was a big hit with Eurovision viewers, surprisingly so (at least for me). Only Russia and Ukraine earned more points from the televoting portion of the contest, and Michał Szpak earned a top-ten finish despite an extremely poor showing -- seven points total -- with the juries. Only two other times has Poland managed such a strong finish; 2014's memorable "My Słowianie" had delightful staging, but ended up in 14th place. Can Kasia Moś get to the Grand Final and buck Poland's trend of being just sporadically decent?

Ben wasn't very impressed with this song in the First Listen round of reviews, and I have to agree. I love me a dramatic Eurovision ballad, but "Flashlight" promises more than it actually delivers. I think I get what the songwriters were going for, but when you're limited to three minutes onstage, your slow burn can't take a full sixty seconds to produce any flame at all. Musically speaking, the chorus is the strongest and most interesting part of this track, and I wish they could scrap the rest and rebuild. We're way too late for that, though, and based on live performances, I don't see much help coming in the form of amazing stagecraft.

The general viewing audience seems to be similarly unenthralled with this track; only five countries from the first semi-final have fewer YouTube views. Odds makers have this song sitting on the bubble, but that's been a significantly downward trend over the last couple of weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that continue. Kasia Moś has two direct competitors: Albania and Georgia. Neither seem like particularly strong contenders at this point((Although Georgia is somehow in first place with the odds makers? And I am having a hard time seeing how that's anything but a mistake?)) but we're in pretty solid agreement that both of those are better entries than this one. Add to that the general strength of this semi-final, and I just don't see a path to the Grand Final for Poland.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Hungary — Joci Pápai — Origo Fri, 31 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 82c6961e-6022-4f0d-9242-a2155bec8811 "Can Hungary keep building on the good thing they have going and make it to the ESC finals?

Country: Hungary
Song Title: "Origo"
Artist: Joci Pápai
Second Semi-Final: Position #8
Last year's entry: "Pioneer" - Freddie (19th Place)

It's not easy to pin down what a "Hungarian" song sounds like at the modern Eurovision Song Contest.  In the past 7 years (since they sat out 2010), we've had your standard Eurodance tracks, a remix of an indie rock track((seriously.  I still have no clue how this did so well)), folk songs, and, in last year's entry (Freddie's "Pioneer"), something that felt like it straddled those various lines.  That did well in its semifinal, but got a little lost in the stronger field at the final, finishing in 19th.  Can Joci Pápai's "Origo" bring the momentum they need to get further up that final chart?

I love this song and really hope it manages to resonate with the Eurovision audience.  Joci's delivery and the song's style reminds me a little bit of Sting's "Desert Rose", but melds together folk music, pop, and a little bit of rap in a way that I look for in the competition.  There's a real beauty to the melody line of the song and its delivery is strong.

Having watched the national final performance, for Eurovision I want them to take the various elements of it and bring bigger, better, more of all of them.  With 3 people on stage, they have room for 3 more.  I'd add two dancers to bring some symmetry to what the one currently on stage is doing, and a backing vocalist to give Joci's vocals a little more heft during the chorus to help this match the recorded version a little more.  Hungary's great with presenting whatever they send, so all they need is to keep refining what makes their song great even more.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Switzerland — Timebelle — Apollo Thu, 30 Mar 2017 06:00:00 -0500 d4293637-2da2-47ef-8116-1cc3fa98805e "Can Switzerland take advantage of an easier semi-final and get back to the Grand Final?

Country: Switzerland
Song Title: "Apollo"
Artist: Timebelle
Second Semi-Final: Position #14
Last year's entry:The Last Of Our Kind” — Rykka (DNQ - 18th Place, SF2)

Switzerland has had a rough decade at the song contest. Since 2007, they've finished a round in last place twice as often as they've qualified through to the Grand Final.((Yeowch.)) In both 2015 and 2016, they failed to qualify AND ended up at the bottom of their semi-final round. Clearly something is not working with their selection process. This year's selection, "Apollo" by Timebelle, crushed the competition, earning 48% of the popular vote, with the runner up earning only 18%. Can they ride that success into the Grand Final for the first time since 2014?

Mike had a couple of suggestions for this song: one, to clean up some clunky metaphors in the lyrics, and secondly to deal with some possible sound issues. Neither of these seem to have happened. The lyrics are the same, from what I can tell. I've listened to several different live renditions, and in each case the verses sound a little flat, particularly when compared with the more processed studio version.((The choruses sound fine to me, which is backwards from what I'd expect with this song.)) So it seems like this is the version, or very very close to the version, we'll see in May. I'm not a fan. It's not egregiously bad, like Rykka's track last year. It's just not interesting, new, or fresh, and I find myself forgetting what the song even sounds like, except for the "I'll follow you, Apollo" hook.

That's a concern, because there seem to be a few direct competitors for "Apollo" in the second semi-final. Lithuania, also sporting a female-fronted mid-tempo dance-ish track, is the most obvious. None of us are currently taking them seriously as a Grand Final contender, but at least they're interesting and memorable in a way Timebelle isn't. Denmark, FYR Macedonia, and Serbia also have female-fronted dance-ish tracks, and all three of those have a more danceable tempo and a more interesting sound more generally. To Switzerland's benefit, competition in the second semi-final on Thursday of Eurovision week is thinner, with most of the obvious major front runners stacked into the first round on Tuesday. If they can find a way to stick in viewers' minds, they might just make it through.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Finland — Norma John — Blackbird Thu, 30 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 d7b7bd9f-2b30-4fa2-b20c-534945c26bf3 "Will "Blackbird" allow Finland to swoop out of its current Eurovision slump?

Country: Finland
Song Title: "Blackbird"
Artist: Norma John
First Semi-Final: Position #7
Last year's entry: "Sing it Away" - Sandhja (DNQ - 15th Place, SF1)

Finland has found itself in a Eurovision slump, failing to qualify for the Grand Final in its last two attempts. That's not an indication of song quality: 2015's entry was a punk rock song that celebrated accessibility, and last year's song found itself in the unfortunate position of sounding a lot like Spain's entry.((A rough performance at the semi-final didn't help, but the die had been cast at that point.)) How will "Blackbird" by Norma John fare in semi-final?

Here's the deal. Finland was fourth to choose their song this year, so at the time I was filled with optimism that the songwriting and delivery were going to be elevated, with this song setting the tone. I think that prediction came to pass, but unfortunately left Finland in the dust. "Blackbird" isn't in my personal top ten, not because I dislike it but because there are so many other songs in the field I like more.

What Norma John have going for them is that the song is so different from most of the rest of the field. Norma's vocals are the strongest of the female singers, and she proved it on Finland's national selection. Theoretically, this song should be able to go toe-to-toe with Australia's entry, but there is some pop element that is missing in this track that makes it more challenging to connect and appreciate it.

I won't be upset if "Blackbird" manages to sneak into the final, but I would be rather surprised.

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week 3: San Marino is Beating Sweden?! Thu, 30 Mar 2017 03:00:00 -0500 cbc2ec88-a931-4807-9671-dbb15919eccd "The big question coming out of this week's Eurovision YouTube views: could San Marino be on its way to the Grand Final again?


Overall viewership is down from last week, with all 43 entries attracting 6.3 million views versus 8.6 million. I would wager interest is leveling off until some of the national final performances are replaced with music videos and the semi-final running orders get announced. Ten videos have more than a million views each, with a couple approaching the 2 million mark.

First Semi-Final

Top Spots

Sweden's Robin Bengtsson managed to slide into the overall top spot this week. "I Can't Go On" added 470,000 views -- the third-most watched video this week -- and will likely surpass 2 million views by the end of the day (if it hasn't already). Last week's leader, Belgium's "City Lights" by Blanche, added 362,000 views and is also creeping up toward 2 million, sitting at 1.9 million watches. Australia joined the million view club, thanks to an addition 148,000 views since last Wednesday.

Big Moves

Sweden and Beligum claimed the one and two spots, respectively, in weekly views. Third place went to Armenia's "Fly With Me" by Artsvik, which scored another 321,000 views. Artsvik, Azerbaijan's Dihaj, and Hovig from Cyprus are all closing in on 1 million total views.

You in danger, girl

Georgia's "Keep the Faith" is still in the basement, pulling in only 24,600 views for a total of just under 115,000 views. A new video is expected in the coming days, which should include the studio version of the track. Things aren't looking great for Slovenia: Omar Naber's "On My Way" brought in only 25,600 views and is second from the bottom overall in total views.

Second Semi-Final

Top Spots

The controversy surrounding Russia's participation((Editor's Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.)) may have helped move "Flame is Burning" to the top spot. Julia Samoylova's song had the most weekly views (581,000) and has almost 1.5 million total views. Bulgaria has moved into second place, with 363,000 clicks on Kristian Kostov's "Beautiful Mess" bringing his total to 1.41 million. FYR Macedonia slipped to third place, with Jana Burčeska's "Dance Alone" sitting at 1.39 million views.

Big Moves

The biggest surprise this week? San Marino had the second-highest weekly viewer total of the entire field. "Spirit of the Night" by Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson had 568,000 views, pushing it above 1.1 million total views. "Lights and Shadows" by O'G3NE from the Netherlands passed the 1 million mark.

You in danger, girl

Malta had the lowest viewership of the second semi-final this week, with Claudia Faniello's "Breathlessly" attracting only 31,000 views. Although Croatia scored a few more viewers (33,600), it's still at the bottom of the pile with 171,600 total views. Although Estonia's "Lost in Verona" recovered slightly from last week's underwhelming debut, Koit Toome & Laura are only ahead of Jacques Houdek's "My Friend" by about 3,000 views.

The Auto-Qualifiers

France's Alma joined the million views club, with "Requiem" reaching 1,067,000 views. She also had the most views of the group this week, scoring 287,000 clicks. Ukraine's O.Torvald isn't having a great "Time" this week: it is the least watched of the group both for this week and overall.

YouTube viewership figures are based on surveying the official Eurovision channel videos between 8pm and 8:30pm Eastern on Wednesdays."

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Belarus — NAVIBAND — Historyja majho žyccia Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 89e85dc1-92bf-4317-ad56-51dd7b982a83 "NAVIBAND's got plenty of spunk, but does Belarus have what it takes to push "Historyja majho žyccia" all the way to the Eurovision finals?

Country: Belarus
Song Title: "Historyja majho žyccia"
Artist: NAVI
Second Semi-Final: Position #15
Last year's entry: "Help You Fly" - IVAN (DNQ - 12th Place, SF2)

There's a inverse correlation between how much I enjoy the Belarussian Eurovision entry's stage presentation and its chances of actually making the final.  Chainmail tank top?  DNQ.  Naked dude/wolf holograms?  DNQ.  Over-obvious butterfly theme?  Qualified((finished in 24th and really only bareeeeeeely made it into the final, but still.  Qualified)).  What I'm saying here is that Belarus has had a spotty history the last few years, and hasn't seen the final since 2014, when everyone's favorite twerpy hamster date got them all the way to 16th place.  Will NAVIBAND's "Historyja majho žyccia" be the act to get them back in the Eurovision final spotlight?

Let's talk about this song.  Ryan loved it, and it has a lot of what initially drew me to watching the Eurovision Song Contest all those((8, at this point - how time flies!)) years ago.  There's a great blend of traditional folk music from the country, mixed with enough pop polish((although in this case it's a little closer to the likes of groups like Of Monsters and Men and The Lumineers)) to remind you that this is a competition, after all.  I really like the interplay between the two vocalists, as well as the fact that this song is in a language other than english.  All of these feel like things that can help the Belarussian performance stand out from the pack in the second semifinal.

Looking at that field, there's definitely room to stand out.  Ryan suggested that they basically change nothing (language, peppiness, etc.) for this performance, and they appear to have heeded our suggestion.  While the second semi-final doesn't feel quite as stacked with heavily-favored performances as the first, the style of NAVI's upbeat song will stick out from some of the ballads we're getting from Denmark and Serbia, and definitely feels more lively than the other entry from a country containing "Rus" in their name((assuming they still decide to perform - more on that at the linked article)).  I'm not sure they have the support needed from the rest of the nations to make it all the way, but at the very least, this feels like an entry on the bubble that could pop right on over to the final if conditions are right.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Georgia — Tamara Gachechiladze — Keep the Faith Wed, 29 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 f6771767-3904-4add-83a4-7fca1b6d96db "Will Georgia need to do more than "Keep the Faith" to get Tamara Gachechiladze to the Eurovision Song Contest final?

Country: Georgia
Song Title: "Keep the Faith"
Artist: Tamara Gachechiladze
First Semi-Final: Position #2
Last year's entry: "Midnight Gold" - Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz (20th Place)

Georgia was one of the surprises at the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, qualifying with the rock song/art installation/awesomeness that was "Midnight Gold." This year, Georgia decided to open up their process to a national final format, which could have gone better. With 25 songs((Originally 28 were supposed to compete... NO!)) competing for recognition, the field was rather watered down and getting to the end became a slog.

Tamara Gachechiladze kept the faith and ended up winning the jury vote while finishing second in the televote. How does this song stack up now in a field of 43 contestants?

Sorry, Ryan, I'm just not that enthusiastic about this track. The staging and Gachechiladze's dress is a little too reminiscent of Conchita Wurst's ensemble in 2014, to the point where it feels almost copy-cat. Although her voice is beautiful and powerful, the song itself is heavy handed in Candide-like optimism and not really what I signed up for with Eurovision.((Maybe less "plane hitting the south tower" in Kyiv? Thanks!)) As of this writing, the official video hasn't dropped, so hopefully some of the more technical aspects of the song have been tweaked. Specifically, that key change is rouuuuuuugh.

An additional challenge for Georgia: the first semi-final is the main battlefield at this year's Contest. Three of the overall favorites -- Australia, Belgium, and Sweden -- along with traditional powerhouses Azerbaijan, Greece, and Armenia, are in the mix. It's safe to say five of the ten spots for the Grand Final have been claimed, with two or three more reserved. That means Georgia will have to keep the faith that it can snatch one of the two or three slots that are maybe up in the air.

I do appreciate that one of the singers from "We Don't Wanna Put In" is going to Eurovision this year, but I'm having a hard time keeping the faith that this will progress to the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2017 Entry: Albania — Lindita — World Tue, 28 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 de58dd2c-8903-4ff0-8ed1-dc1c0b340103 "This year's first entry might need some help to remain standing through the last day.<!--more-->

Country: Albania
Song Title: "World"
Artist: Lindita
First Semi-Final: Position #4
Last year's entry:Fairytale” — Eneda Tarifa (DNQ - 16th Place, SF2)

Albania has had an up-and-down((But mostly down.)) time in their thirteen Eurovision appearances. Almost half of their attempts have ended in the semi-final, with only two of the remaining qualifiers going on to finish in the top ten. The most recent of those successes was 2012's "Suus," notable for being Albania's highest-ever finish at the Contest, and for earning Rona Nishliu the Barbara Dex [Worst-Dressed] Award.((Trivia alert! Only two entrants have won this award while finishing higher than 5th. No entrant has ever won the Barbara Dex Award AND the Contest.)) As the first entry announced for 2017, can Lindita take Albania back to the Grand Final, and look good doing it?

Let's start with the positives. Lindita has a great voice, strong and clear, and holds her own above an intense and dramatic rock orchestra. The song is structured well, and builds effectively towards the climax, a series of long notes that could be awesome if Lindita nails them. They've also translated the song into English, which is personally disappointing, but understandable given the desire to connect with as much of the televoting audience as possible. The new lyrics are a wee bit clunky, but that won't matter since they're about love, war, and unity -- three of the universal Eurovision themes. I also love the costuming of this music video, which fits better with the song's theme than the bedazzled catsuit from the national selection process.

Unfortunately, Albania also has a couple of strong disadvantages working against them. As the first entrant out of the gate, this song has been kicking around since late December, and the listening audience will be past their peak with this song by the time mid-May rolls around. They also have a great displeasure of performing in the first semi-final, which is ridiculously stacked this year. Lindita is one of eleven((!!)) female soloists that will take the stage Tuesday during Eurovision week, and while I think "World" is a good song, it's not doing anything particularly interesting or innovative like others performing that day. Armenia has some interesting/ethnic-sounding instrumentation, Latvia and Belgium have the dance angle covered, and Finland's bringing the weird. Meanwhile, heavyweights Australia and Azerbaijan look like they may suck all of the oxygen out of the room.

Good luck to Albania in advancing to the Grand Final -- they're going to need it.

In Memoriam: 2017 Selection Season Mon, 27 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 d4810b10-423f-4f3d-b7df-edb6aa118910 "A look back at the songs and performances that didn't quite make it to the Eurovision Song Contest stage in Kyiv.<!--more-->

From national finals to weeks-long selection series, we've seen dozens of Eurovision hopefuls fall short of winning the right to represent their respective countries in Ukraine this May. Here are some of our favorite runners-up from the 2017 Selection Season.


Anna Danielyan "Dancing on My Own" -- Armenia's Depi Evratesil process brought out a fascinating mix of singers trying to earn the right to be on the Eurovision stage. Anna strength wasn't in making a strong first impression, instead building up throughout her performance to transfix the audience. Although her cover of "I See Fire" is equally enthralling, this version of Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" might be better than the original. Anna was knocked out in the battle round, as her opponent made a first impression too strong to overcome.


Lauri Yrjölä “Helppo elämä” -- Finland is always a treat when it comes to Eurovision selections because you never know what is going to be on the table. The guitar and beats combination could turn into Bastille-meets-Avicii instead of a hypnotic toe-tapper-sort-of-dancey pop party. Although it was "mournful ballad's" turn in the rotation, this track could have been a slow-building success as Finland prepared for May.


Tornike Kipiani and Giorgi Bolotašvili "You Are My Sunshine" -- Not quite to the level of "We Are the Winners" (Lithuania, 2006), you have to commend this duo for committing to the bit. Had Georgia's national final not been an interminable affair with 25 acts competing, this might have had a chance of giving "Keep the Faith" a run for its money.


Gabi Toth "Hosszú idők" -- One of the things that makes Hungary's A Dal process so successful is the repeat exposure to the songs competing. The winning song will be performed for the voting public and the jury four times: preliminary heat, semi-final, jury final, superfinal. This allows for opinion to change and appreciation to grow, as was the case with this entry. Unfortunately, this song missed out on the superfinal despite having support from three of the four judges.


Franco Franco "Up" -- One of the defining characteristics of a successful Eurovision entry is the ability to exist as a song outside of the context of the Contest. This song is so outside of what we typically see at Eurovision -- which has been Latvia's direction since switching to the Supernova selection process -- that hearing this performance forces you to stop what you are doing and pay attention. Even though this didn't make it out of the semi-final phase, this song instantly became a Spotify staple for 2017.


Lolita Zero "Get Frighten" -- Admittedly, we didn't pay too much attention to Lithuania's marathon process this year since... marathon (also, the stream was too finicky). However, dipping in between Ukraine and Melfest and Iceland and we would see the occasional recap featuring... whatever the hell just happened with the melon smashing and pyrotechnic horns. Is it a great song? Not really. But definitely adding Lolita Zero to our US performance watchlist.


Ella "Mama's Boy" -- Norway's field had a lot to choose from this year, as shown by the fact that this didn't even make it into the superfinal. The fact that this live performance is just as banging as the studio track is fan-freakin-tastic and an incredible feat. Norway's here to play, y'all, and we should pay attention.


Raiven "Zažarim" -- At first glance this borrows perhaps too heavily from "Love Injected" -- from the lighting effects to the vocal power fluctuations between the verse and chorus. First, Eurovision could use tons more songs like "Love Injected", so that's not really a criticism. This song's presentation has a point of view, which is more than can be said about what Slovenia ultimately selected.

Which non-winning entries were your favorites this year?"

Russia's "Flame is Burning" for Julia Samoylova Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:00:00 -0500 d79bd16d-684d-47d3-b64c-ccb71698fa9e "Now can we try not to start World War III with it?

Bear with me for a moment, folks, while I try to briefly recap the dumpster fire that is Ukrainian-Russian relations right now specifically as it pertains to Eurovision; you'll have to look elsewhere for broader geopolitical news.((Editor's Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.))

Last year, Ukraine competed with a song Russia felt violated the no-politics-at-Eurovision rule and should have been banned. That didn't happen, and Jamala's "1944" took home the prize despite failing to win either with the juries or in the televote. Russia felt this was the result of a political conspiracy to keep them from winning, and various members of the delegation have been vocal about their displeasure ever since. Earlier this month, shortly after Russia announced they'd be represented by Julia Samoylova, Ukraine announced that she would not be able to enter the country because she illegally toured in Crimea in 2015. The EBU tried to broker a peace, suggesting that Samoylova could compete live via satellite, but Ukraine said "nope, that's still illegal" and Russia said "you're weird, no thanks." So we're not entirely sure if Russia will send Samoylova, or anyone, to the Contest this year. Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, though, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing, and doing so with Julia Samoylova.

Phew! That was a lot of information. So let's just check out this song, shall we?

Julia Samoylova has a lovely voice, and given that she was the runner-up on the Russian version of The X-Factor in 2013, we know she can bring it live. This is an okay song that's been growing on me, even if those lazy near-rhymes still drive me nuts.(("Dreaming" and "ceiling" can rhyme, if you let them. Pick a pronunciation for that final syllable and stick with it, please.)) I'll be honest, though: it feels like Russia isn't making a good-faith effort this year. That's not an indictment, necessarily -- I can understand why they're pissed, even if I don't think they're correct about why things have gone how they have the last few years. The level of production in this video and song are so far below what we've come to expect from Russia, it's both frustrating and disappointing.

Setting aside last year's blockbuster Sergey Lazarev video for a moment, let's compare this year's official music video to the ones for Russia's last three female-fronted ballads: Polina Gagarina in 2015, the Tolmachevy Sisters in 2014 (another recent moment when Ukraine and Russia seemed on the brink of war), and Dina Garipova in 2013. All of these are slick and heavily produced in a way that "Flame is Burning" just ... isn't. If and when we do see this on the Eurovision stage, I hope they've put more effort and thought into the performance, which is what Samoylova (and anybody putting themselves through the Eurovision ringer) deserves."

Bulgaria's "Beautiful Mess" a Beautiful Surprise Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:30:00 -0500 061328a0-7928-4049-9742-4f3ac47c213d "Kristian Kostov's entry for Bulgaria at this year's Eurovision Song Contest is anything but a "Mess"

After the rough time they had in the contest towards the second half of the 2000s, I was happy to see Bulgaria back in the competition at last year's Eurovision Song Contest, and even happier that they sent a banger like Poli Genova's "If Love Was A Crime" to end up in 4th place.  Does this year's entry, Kristian Kostov's "Beautiful Mess", have what it takes to keep that momentum up?

My first impressions of this song were just okay (as I was hoping for something a little more uptempo like last year's entry), but as far as the ballads in this year's competition goes, this one really keeps growing on me.  There's a modern flair to the backing track that really reflects what's going on in pop music right now, and everything neatly wraps up in the 3 minutes they're allotted (unlike some of the entries this year that just abruptly stop).

I don't have any live footage of Kristian performing to compare against, but if it's close to this recording, I think Bulgaria has another trip to the finals in their future.  It'll be up to the people (and the juries) to get them to #1, though."

Artsvik asks Armenia to "Fly With Me" Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 64b6bf3e-0e0b-490a-8a7d-f9065ccd5cae "Armenia had the earliest Eurovision selection series, but saved its entry "Fly with Me" by Depi Evratesil's winner Artsvik for last.

We've been waiting quite a while((since the end of Depi Evratesil, to be exact)) for Armenia's Artsvik to reveal her Eurovision entry. Would it be a Beyonce-level power ballad? Would it be a conceptual art installation like last year's "LoveWave"? What does "Fly With Me" have in store for us?

It's a little from column A and a little from column B. Woo! Although the song does not have as many vocal demands as some of her performances during Armenia's selection process, I think this song does a good job of showcasing how powerful Artsvik's voice can be. I'm also surprised to see her doing choreography in the video as she did exactly none during Depi Evratesil. The combination of sound and visuals seems to be pulling from all the threads of what has made Armenian entries very successful the last several years.

As for what to work on in the meantime, I'll be curious to see how much of the video concept transfers to the stage performance. If the concept is mostly unchanged, the choreography will need to tighten up while also expanding a bit to accommodate staging for the venue.

This should be an entry people keep an eye on. While it may not immediately catch on, I could see appreciation for this song building up over the next several weeks as we get ready for Kyiv. Good job, Armenia!"

Does Iceland's Eurovision Entry Look Good on "Paper"? Fri, 24 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 38927697-3751-478a-b511-73b8e699bd7c "Does Svala's "Paper" have what it takes for Iceland to make the cut to this year's Eurovision final?

It's been stated here many a time, but Iceland is one of my favorite nations to root for in the Eurovision Song Contest, even though nothing's quite measured up to 2014's stellar "No Prejudice" from Pollaponk in my eyes. That's one place where that seems to be aligned with the rest of Europe. Iceland has just missed the finals every year since then, even with last year's "Hear Them Calling", which I thought had a great live presentation.

It feels like the last few years, the songs Iceland has sent have been all chorus, no verse, which leaves them feeling a little thin when compared to the field as a whole.  Does Svala's "Paper" have what it takes to at least get them back in the final?


From what I've heard of the Eurovision field as a whole this year, I really dig this song - there's an icy coolness from the backing and Svala's vocals that helps it stand out.  The whole song has sort of a CHVRCHES vibe, which is more than welcome by me, and its rhythm feels both like what's been going on in the past year of music trends AND what's happening going forward.

What's tripped Iceland up the few years, though, does still seem to be the case here. This feels like a lot of chorus, not a lot of verse. Unlike the last few entries, Svala seems to have the presence to pull it off.  I could easily see this song performed by someone like Kylie Minogue. Hopefully the stage presentation of this matches the vibe of the video and brings things to a slightly avant-garde place to help Iceland stand even further out from the pack."

Azerbaijan's "Skeletons" Are Here to Party Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 f40d9308-5b63-4f21-92c6-6375f09e51cc "Or perhaps to take your lungs, but either way you'll enjoy yourself.

In Azerbaijan's first six appearances at Eurovision, it seemed they could do no wrong. Five top-five results, including one win and one runner-up, gave way to a finish near the bottom in 2014. Since then they've somewhat recovered, but not to top-ten form. Is "Skeletons" the song that can get the Azeris back to the top of the standings?


There is so much to like about this entry! I have been on board since the opening bass chord, which does such a great job of drawing attention and setting the tone, and to which I verbally responded "YESSSSSSS." This is probably what it would look like if Stranger Things and Eurovision had a baby together, and I am completely here for it, even if I'm not entirely sure what it's about.((What are thorn jeans and how does one become surrounded by them?)) The aesthetic manages to be both slick and grimy, which sounds like a terrible combination, but somehow Azerbaijan is pulling it off.

Sonically I have no improvements or suggestions to make, but visually speaking, I'm gonna need some awesome Thriller-type costumes or holograms. What I do NOT want is a typical "band stands around and fake-plays instruments" kind of staging. Dihaj is an electronic music trio, and while I totally understand wanting to have everyone present onstage, I want more from this entry. I think I'll get it, too -- even when Azerbaijan hasn't been great, they've been sparkly and well-produced. Look for this one to land Azerbaijan back near the top in Kyiv."

Valentina Monetta Brings "Spirit" to San Marino Thu, 23 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 79681475-7b6b-4ed8-8690-701f6de9a18d "Two Eurovision legends are at it again. Oh, and Jimmie Wilson.

Valentina Monetta is the patron saint of Eurovision among the Sammarinese. When she takes the stage in Kyiv in May, her four performances will account for half of San Marino's entries, and will tie the record for the most Eurovision appearances. She's also the only San Marino participant to ever qualify through to the Final -- on her third try, with "Maybe" in 2014. "Spirit of the Night" marks a different milestone for another Eurovision legend, providing Ralph Siegel with his TWENTY-FIFTH Eurovision songwriting credit.((He also wrote Monetta's previous three entries.))

This is a duet so I should probably mention the other vocalist. Jimmie Wilson is an American singer whose previous credits include the Michael Jackson-produced Sisterella, and a German production of "Hope! -- Das Obama Musical."((I don't mean to be dismissive of his presence, but he's a complete newbie who's along for the ride with two legends. So.)) Will all of this experience lead to San Marino's second-ever appearance at the Grand Final?

This entry is a Hot Mess, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. The first two verse/chorus sections start out nicely, both fun and energetic, and the video has a pink-and-green club aesthetic that could translate well to the Eurovision stage. All of a sudden, what should be an accessible dance tune tries to do way too much. Right at the two-minute mark, we have our first (!!) key change. It's straightforward at first, but then the vocalists depart from their established melodic / harmonic lines in a way most folks won't be able to follow (and my ear definitely did not the first go-round). We then have our second key changes, which takes us down a step, and the third key change (back upwards) in relatively quick succession. Three key changes in different directions within sixty seconds, and then the song is just kinda ... over? Given some of Ralph Siegel's previous work, some wonkiness is to be expected, but I'd prefer it to be delightfully weird rather than sounding like it was maybe a mistake.

All of that said: other than cropping off the intro and outro to get within the 3-minute time limit, I don't have any particular must-have changes for this song. Having some slightly weird songs is part of the point of Eurovision, and who am I to tell Valentina and Ralph (and Jimmie) how to do their thing? I'll just look forward to the semi-final."

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week 2: Favorites Emerging Thu, 23 Mar 2017 02:00:00 -0500 fe125b31-4ae1-44bf-aa44-826ce44eea68 "Now that we have week-to-week data and all 43 songs available, which Eurovision entries are the movers and shakers and possible favorites in Kyiv?<!--more-->

First Semi-Final

Top Spots

Last week's leader, Blanche from Belgium, maintained her lead this week, having the most viewed video on the official Eurovision YouTube Channel with more than 1,537,000 views as of Wednesday evening. However, Sweden's Robin Bengtsson has closed the gap considerably, with "I Can't Go On" racking up 1,507,000 views. In a distant third is Australia's Isaiah, with "Don't Come Easy" clocking in with almost 892,000 views.

Big Moves

Sweden pulled in the most views of all the entries this week, with more than 678,000 trips on the treadmills. He narrowly beat out Armenia's Artsvik, whose video for "Fly With Me" debuted this past Saturday but managed to pull in more than 633,000 views in just a few days. Belgium also managed to attract half a million clicks this week alone.

You in danger, girl

Georgia may need to keep the faith, or at least get the real video posted ASAP. The national final performance of Tamara Gachechiladze's song is currently the least watched of all of this year's videos with just over 90,000 views. "Keep the Faith" also had the lowest viewership this week, attracting a little more than 30,000 hits.

Second Semi-Final

Top Spots

FYR Macedonia has the high water mark this week, with "Dance Alone" charting almost 1.15 million views. However, Jana Burčeska is not alone in the seven-figures club, as Serbia is right behind her with 1.12 million views and Bulgaria at 1.05 million.

Big Moves

Bulgaria will be one to watch out for at the Contest this year, if YouTube is any indication. Kristian Kostov had the second-most watched video in this semi-final and the fourth-most watched video overall this week, chalking up more than 523,000 views. The most-watched video of the semi-final belongs to Russia's Julia Samoylova, though I'm not sure how many of her 541,000 views were in the last 24 hours.((Editor's Note: Until the EBU/Eurovision officially announces Russia withdrawing from or changing their entry for this year's Contest, we will be proceeding under the assumption that they will be competing with Julia Samoylova.)) San Marino((Really?)) rounded out the top three of big movers in this semi-final, adding 405,000 views to their total.

You in danger, girl (and guy)

The last video to debut from this semi-final was Estonia's "Verona" by Koit Toome and Laura. This one also debuted on Saturday, but has only managed to register 98,000 views by Wednesday evening. Although that's an okay-sized level of week-to-week viewership, Estonia sits in 42nd place in total viewership. It's possible the debut may have been overshadowed by Armenia, but no one told Estonia to drop the video on Saturday...

The Auto-Qualifiers

France currently sits on top of the Big Five and Ukraine with 780,000 total views. "Requiem" also had the most views of the bunch this week with more than 341,000. The new abridged version of Italy's "Occidentali's Karma" had a modest debut of 318,000 views. Considering there is a longer video without subtitles that has been available elsewhere for over a month, I would not be surprised if this song has the Lazarev effect. Ukraine's "Time" had the least viewership this week, while Spain's "Do it for Your Lover" got out of the basement by adding 100,000 views."

Ireland's "Dying to Try" for the Grand Final Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:00:00 -0500 a8de64b1-189c-4826-8de1-abc5d61107ed "At least it's not a turkey? Not the feathered kind, in any case.

Several countries have had a poor decade at Eurovision, but perhaps none moreso than Ireland. In the past eleven years, the Irish have failed to qualify five times, and made it to the finals but finished last on two more occasions. (Ironically, most of this happened AFTER they sent a puppet turkey to protest poor finishes.) The only bright spot was Jedward's 2011 entry, "Lipstick," which managed to crack the top ten. Can Brendan Murray right the ship?

In a word? No. It's not bad, I guess, but it's not interesting either. Murray's vocals are nice, but his voice is too thin for the accompaniment, which sounds like it belongs to a completely different, and more soulful, song. The key change comes way too early, and can best be described((thanks for the term, Mike)) as unearned. There's literally zero buildup, just "Oh hey, here's something different for you!" And it's slow. Sloooooooow.

I don't have anything terrible to say about this entry, or Brendan Murray. He seems nice, if not very charismatic. I'm just bored by this whole package. Excellent staging can go a long way to saving an otherwise mediocre song -- but Ireland's not been very lucky on that front, either. There are probably a few things Ireland can do to avoid a complete meltdown, but I don't see them coming anywhere near qualifying with this entry."

Will Belgium's "City Lights" Shine Brightly? Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 88d8b248-b228-4dd4-b19a-a50d3304f635 "Or is that just the youthful glow of teenagers onstage?

After a string of failures-to-qualify in the late '00s, Belgium began to turn to a perhaps unlikely source for representation: former contestants from The Voice. Young ones, too! Of the last five artists Belgium has sent to Eurovision, only one has been beyond their teen years at performance time. Blanche, a 17-year old former contestant on The Voice Belgique, will try to continue the success her fellow young'uns have had in the past few years. Is "City Lights" the right song to do it?

At first glance this is a really great song. It sounds like it might be a ballad at the very start, but slowly adds layers and voices until it's a fully-realized dance track. Right at the two-minute mark, all the voices except Blanche's drop out, getting us ready for a final climb through the end of the song. The production value is spot-on, and I'm not sure where to even begin improving upon that before the contest. I am particularly interested, though, in hearing how this song plays live. It's a great hanging-out-on-my-couch song, but might not have the right amplitude of energy for folks on their feet in an arena. Based on this video and another short clip from a live performance, Blanche is not going to bring much in the way of energy herself, so it needs to come from somewhere else.

Which brings me to the other piece of this entry: the performance. The music video doesn't hold many clues for us regarding what the staged concept will be, except that they will almost certainly make use of every single light on that stage. If Blanche isn't going to bring much in the way of movement, though, somebody needs to. If this were another country, I might be concerned, but Belgium's staging has been on point the last couple of years (particularly with Loïc Nottet's 4th-place finish in 2015). All considered, this promises to be another good year for the Belgian youths."

Will Fusedmarc Make It "Rain" in Ukraine for Lithuania? Wed, 22 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 59eb0190-e90f-4979-a356-033b9ce8a1a7 "Fusedmarc's "Rain of Revolution" is definitely different as far as this year's Eurovision entries go.

I've been watching the Eurovision Song Contest in some form or another since 2008, and Lithuania has always been an interesting nation to watch. Unlike some nations that always seem to send the same types of singers and songs, Lithuania seems to have broader taste. We've had everything from an acapella jam about being Eastern European (2010), straight-up disco (2012), and earnest acoustic duets (2015), and everything in between.

Last year's entry, Danny Montell's "I've Been Waiting For This Night", got them their second top-ten finish after it made it all the way to 9th in the points.  After embracing a poppier sound with that song, it seems Lithuania's tastes have turned once again to something a little more experimental:

I will give Fusedmarc this: they're doing something different than most other contestants in this year's Contest, and will certainly stand out for that. I'm just not sure I like it. And that's interesting to say, because it has a lot of elements I like: there's a processed nature to the horn synths they're using that I tend to dig in '80s pop music, and the whole thing has a nice bassline to it. But I can't make heads or tails to what's going on with the vocal line or lyrics, and I think that's where it loses me.

The current schizophrenic stage presentation doesn't really help things. It feels like seven different ideas are happening at once, and it doesn't help me reconcile what they're going for and if it's succeeding. I think one way Lithuania can improve this before May is to hone things down and focus on one or two elements. Make the song stand out a little more and maybe I won't get so mentally lost the next time around."

Serbia Goes "In Too Deep" Tue, 21 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 d0158824-cc1a-4510-8ea8-b650aa849fe1 "Is Tijana Bogićević's "In Too Deep" for Serbia at the Eurovision Song Contest?

Serbia's history as a solo nation in the Eurovision Song Contest starts off with a bang - they won the 2007 contest and hosted in 2008 - but sort of drops off from there. They placed 3rd in 2012, but since then, it's been a bit hit or miss.  They've qualified through to the final in both 2015 and 2016 (with what I thought was a great song, "Shelter"), but only just barely, with the final results putting them well out of contention to win again.  Is Tijana Bogićević's "In Too Deep" the song to push them over the edge, or are they literally just in too deep?

I like the way this song manages to knit together a lot of 2017 music trends -- a little bit of a tropical house beat, vocal sampling, strings -- but it's not done in a way that feels fresh and new to me. The vocal performance is good (at least in the video - as always, I'd love to compare that to a live performance of the song before the actual event), but lyrically, the song doesn't feel particularly "sticky" to me.  There's always something that jumps out to me about the songs that place near the top at Eurovision, and this just lacks that spark for me.

Another thing I like, though, is the video for this.  I hope whatever creative team is working on the live performance is able to pull some of the visuals from this clip to recreate on stage - they give life and visual interest to what could otherwise be a by-the-numbers mid-tempo song at this year's contest."

I Just Can't with Sweden's "I Can't Go On" Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 b7ec0e23-2e15-4b16-a029-dce6da82dd9c "The Swedish Pop Music Industrial Complex has struck again with "I Can't Go On" by Robin Bengtsson. Yay?<!--more-->

I try not to hold grudges, but for some reason music competitions make that goal more difficult.((Nicole Scherzinger knows what she did.)) In last year's Melodifestivalen competition, Robin Bengtsson performed a song called "Constellation Prize." There was nothing about stars, astronomy, or even astrology in the track: it should have been called "Consolation Prize" and therefore is unforgivable.((I'm only half joking. Words have meanings.))

Anyway, Bengtsson returned to this year's MelFest with "I Can't Go On" and a performance including using a good chunk of the backstage area and treadmills. Take a listen:

Not to get into a whole thesis about pop music and rape culture, but this song has a squick factor that makes me not comfortable. It doesn't help that this sounds like a milder version of "Blurred Lines" and that this Robin gives off a strong Robin Thicke vibe. The Swedish public may also be aware of something not being right about this song, as it was only the third favorite out of the twelve entries in the Melfest final. Thanks juries?

I'm starting to get concerned with what Sweden is spitting out for its Eurovision entries. Seeing last year's Melfest winner Frans -- whose song "If I Were Sorry" I found just as problematic -- hand over the trophy to Bengtsson was not a good feeling. Of course, Sweden's Gonna Sweden and this song is considered one of the favorites to win at this point. Blerg."

JOWST Grabs The Moment for Norway Mon, 20 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 85da19b9-4844-4bf1-9dbf-9a49c96e09c5 "Can Norway "Grab The Moment" with JOWST's Eurovision entry, or will they be completely off base with the judges?

Norway smashed Eurovision records when they won with Alexander Rybak's "Fairytale" back in 2009, and rightly so. But they also have a history as one of the nations that's had the most last place entries. I think they're usually good about sending entries that are in touch with what's going on in pop music, but that doesn't always translate to Eurovision success.

Case in point: 2011's entry, Stella Mwangi's "Haba Haba".  I thought this had a lot of potential to go far as an entry - it pulled in from some tropical stuff that was going on in pop at the time, and brought an infectious island flavor to the contest. It seemed to be received well by the crowd inside the stadium during the semi-final, then it finished in 17th place out of 19 and didn't get through to the final.  All this has me trying to hedge my bets before I talk about this year's track, JOWST's "Grab The Moment".

Tropical House and other clubby sounds like it are having a Big Moment in pop right now, so it's understandable they'd make it to the Eurovision Song Contest.  And much like with 2011, I think this is a really great song where, if the vibe across the EBU is right, this could do big business at the Contest this year. It's super hooky and memorable, they've found a way to make the performance relatively dynamic, and it has the sort of generally uplifting message that the Contest tends to return to time and time again.

But I'm also concerned. While this might go over big with the televoters, I'm wondering if it's going to impress the juries enough to get the numbers it needs on their end to really succeed in the Contest overall. Plus, there's a bunch of vocal sampling going on here. I think that particular issue can be worked out in the lead out to the contest (particularly since Ira Losco and a few other artists last year had to do the same thing for their performances), but if the judges think this is too simple or doesn't show enough songcraft (even though I'd argue it does), it's not going to rise to the top of the voting charts."

Eurovision 2017 YouTube Week 1: Methodology! Thu, 16 Mar 2017 11:00:00 -0500 3fd06b95-91ae-4e43-9f36-e63276d1b35c "What secrets do the YouTube videos of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contests entries hold?<!--more-->

As of this writing, 42 of the 43 entries for Eurovision 2017 have been revealed and 40 of those 42 entries have videos on the official Eurovision Song Contest YouTube channel. Now seems like a good time to talk about a metric we will be watching more closely in our coverage of this year's Contest: YouTube views.

First, let's pull back the curtain as to how we tabulate our predictions for success in the semi-finals. Once all the entries are known but before we start our deep dive coverage of the semi-finals, each of our writers will rank the entries within each semi-final. This ranking is based on our own music preferences and taste and is designed to numerically share with one other where each of our heads is at in terms of the crop of entries in a given year. These rankings don't actually factor into the math of our final predictions, but they do give us a benchmark in terms of how opinions can shift over the following two months.

In mid-April, we do another writers' ranking. This time, the ranking is based on the question "which entry will qualify for the Grand Final?" The entry most likely to qualify will be marked as 1 and the least likely to qualify ranked at n.((n is equal to the number of entries competing.)) At this time, we also record the odds as reported by the website and rank in a similar fashion.

Last year we began incorporating YouTube views based on the Official Music Videos posted on Eurovision's YouTube channel. This metric is helpful because it isn't restricted by geography while also being a centralized data point. It isn't perfect--for example, Sergey Lazarev's video had significantly more views on his own YouTube channel because he already had a well-established social media presence and fanbase. On the flipside, YouTube was the only predictor that pointed toward Poland finishing in 3rd place in the televote.

This year, we will be looking at data on a week-to-week basis. Which songs will be the big movers? Will a replacement catch the ears and eyes of viewers? Will a performance at a pre-Eurovision event drive up plays? We should keep an eye on that.

Right before each semi-final, we do one more ranking of all data points and add them up. The ten entries with the best scores end up as our picks.

Are there other data points we should be looking at? Hit us with the digits."

Will North Macedonia's Jana Burčeska "Dance Alone" or with Eurovision Finalists? Thu, 16 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 e88a0817-3987-4b0a-90bb-7d01d2739ca0 "Can Jana Burčeska help North Macedonia capture their first Eurovision finals appearance in 5 years?

North Macedonia and Montenegro are an interesting pair of competitors in the Eurovision Song Contest. Montenegro doesn't seem to care whether they make the final or not, marching to the beat of their own drum and sending the weirdest, wildest, and wackiest entrants they've got.  On the flip side of this, North Macedonia tries so hard, y'all.  They just want to do their best and seem to trip over their own feet, whether it's pairing two vocalists that don't really go together on a song, hiring the remains of Blackstreet to act as backup dancers, or sending the same singer that got them to the finals a few years later hoping to recreate the magic.  All of it's been for seemingly naught - their only qualification in almost ten years was in 2012.  Will Jana Burčeska be the one to break their streak of bad luck?

Fun video aside (the "San Junipero" feel is nice and modern), this is a pretty decent mid-tempo entry in a year that's swimming in ballads, which I think is a plus for this one.  The lyrics and production are a little generic , but this has a fresh taste on the synth-y clubby sound that a handful of other entries are going for.  I don't have live footage to go on((which I always find problematic - this isn't a contest to see who can make the best music video)), but if Jana can deliver this song live in a way that matches 85% of the video, I think she's got a half-decent chance to pull through for North Macedonia and give them the finals appearance they deserved a few years back.  It may just come down to what she's up against in the running order."

Will the Eurovision Final have "Space" for Montenegro? Thu, 16 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0500 e7f2f6c3-e3fd-4e29-a5dd-4596ecb0548e "Slavko Kalezic's entry for Montenegro at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest

Aside from Moldova, Montenegro may secretly be one of my favorite Eurovision entrants.  Marching to the weird, off-key beat of their own drum, they've gladly paraded some of the most unique entrants to the Contest since rejoining in 2012((except for the two years where they sent mainstream ballads and actually made the finals, but those entries weren't fun like the rest were)). After a few years of chasing the mainstream, Montenegro seems poised to give us something meme-worthy again in Kyiv this year with Slavko Kalezic's "Space":

Every time I watch this video my brain shuts down for 3 minutes because it can't process everything that's going on here. I think what surprises me about this is that it somehow transcends what could quickly become "Elektronik Supersonik" if it's not the careful and gives a half-decent disco chorus. I can't make heads or tails of the lyrics or if they make any sort of sense, but this is Eurovision, so that's secondary at best, anyways.

This is Montenegro's usual weird thing (and bless them for this, honestly), so I can't tell if they'll be enough of a novelty to take this to the final, but all I ask for the performance in Kyiv is that it captures as much of the WTF nature of this video in a live setting.  Don't let me down, Slavko."

Israel's "I Feel Alive" Needs More of a Pulse Thu, 16 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0500 48f63f90-79b3-485d-9718-6a399b0f1fb5 "Israel may be playing it a smidge too safe at this year's Eurovision Song Contest with Imri Ziv's generically clubby "I Feel Alive"

Israel's performance in the Eurovision Song Contest has been on the uptick the past few years. After a patch where their entries were consistently just outside of the cutoff to the finals in their respective semis, they hit on the right selection formula with 2015's "Golden Boy" and 2016's "Made of Stars", with each entry making the finals. Interestingly enough, providing backing vocals for both of those entries was this year's artist, Imri Ziv. Now that he's the face of the nation instead of a supporting role, does he have what it takes to keep up Israel's run of good fortune?
This feels a little more of a piece with "Golden Boy" than it does "Made of Stars", since it feels a little more club-ready than Hovi Star's song from last year.  Both of those tracks felt like they were closely connected to the performer, while this feels a little generic. "I Feel Alive" feels designed by committee to appeal to as many audiences as is possible for one club track - I think you could drop any vocalist on this and it'd have the same feel.

The video does a good job of selling this song (and Israel), but mostly reminds the audience the this isn't Imri's first time on the Eurovision stage.  I'd love to see some live footage of this being performed to see how it's going to transcend being a standard club track and stand out in the full field.  By being uptempo it already has a leg up, but it needs more than that if Israel wants to make it 3-for-3 with qualifying."

Czech Republic Gives Martina Bárta Her Turn Tue, 14 Mar 2017 12:00:00 -0500 c0168348-bea0-4c71-81ba-6c5ba381c852 "Can she bring her country its second-ever Grand Final appearance?

Gabriela Gunčíková earned her country its first-ever Grand Final performance last year in Stockholm, but ended up near the bottom of the voting, thanks in part to a number of much stronger female-fronted ballads. This year, they're hoping Martina Bárta can set herself apart from the crowd and move up the leaderboard. Is it the Czech Republic's turn to see some progress?

"My Turn" is a solid choice to send to Kyiv. It's another piano ballad sung by a woman with a great voice, this time in the pop/soul style of Sara Bareilles. The song is well-structured, and tells an emotionally-relatable story. This year's music video has a much higher production quality than last year's, which could point to the country finding that resources for a more engaging live performance. There are a number of questions we don't have answers to yet -- how does this sound live? What about Bárta's stage presence? Any possibility of additional performers onstage? -- but in the meantime there are some improvements to be made. The second verse and chorus are begging for additional instrumentation to fill out the sound. Strings eventually come in, but not until the final third, and drums are added for about 15 of the final 30 seconds. That's too little, too late, and leaves the song feeling a little flat. With a little work on the arrangement, we may see the Czech Republic in the Grand Final once again."

Romania Wants You to "Yodel It" Out Mon, 13 Mar 2017 12:00:00 -0500 158e8701-4c77-46dd-a629-3e86e52eb80d "This is a real thing in the world.

Romania's entry for the 2016 contest in Stockholm, which featured a metrosexual Khal Drogo (and a sincerely enjoyable song), was unfortunately derailed at the last minute due to the national broadcaster's unpaid bills. It appears they've settled that debt, however, and in their grand return to the Eurovision stage, are sending something a little more upbeat. Behold "Yodel It!" by Ilinca featuring Alex Florea:

I want to laugh at this song, loud and long and clear. And let's not be coy, I definitely am, but it feels like I'm laughing WITH these performers. This is a song about living your life on your own terms; one of the verses says, basically, "Hate your job? Yodel and you'll feel better!" That is a ridiculous suggestion, but it seems like both performers are committed to it. That makes this a cringeworthy AND fun three minutes.

I have no expectation this act will have much success, but there are a couple of improvements I'd like to see. Alex's performance is fine, but his costuming -- especially his hair, lord his hair -- need some work. Ilinca's yodel is pretty great (I guess, although I only have "The Lonely Goatherd" for comparison and nobody benefits from comparison with Dame Julie Andrews) but her vocals in the last third are less good. She also moves awkwardly onstage, appearing to nearly forget her blocking and dance moves on at least one occasion. Perhaps they could take a page from Italy's book and have dancers in goat costumes onstage? That would relieve some of the pressure from both of them, and provide some dynamism for the camera crews to work with. I'm not even kidding here.

Go big or go home, Romania. We're all counting on you to help this year's contest be a little more fun."

Estonia brings Koit Toome and Laura's "Verona" to Kyiv Mon, 13 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 bc57df96-500c-4db6-a208-e08da95a00d7 "Koit Toome and Laura's "Verona" is a real Eurovision throwback for Estonia, but is that a good thing?

Estonia is always one of my favorite countries to watch in the Eurovision Song Contest - they do a great job of melding their country's musical history with music trends to present entries that often have a little bit of a retro or classical flair.  Sometimes this works really well - "Goodbye to Yesterday" was one of my absolute favorites two years ago - and sometimes it doesn't (see last year's "Play", which I also liked, but most of Europe didn't, finishing in last place in its semifinal).  This year, they've given what feels like a Eurovision throwback - a pretty straightforward male-female duet from Koit Toome and Laura called "Verona"

I find this song growing on me with each subsequent listen, but my main concern is if it's too much of a throwback.  Other recent contenders with similar structure (Romania's "Miracle" from Ovi and Paula immediately comes to mind, as does Denmark's "A Moment Like This" from Chanee & N'Evergreen as long as we're throwing it back) have qualified to the finals, but they're not placing as high as they once were.

Another issue that bugs me here is enunciation.  Laura's a little mush-mouthed in the opening of this performance, and while the lyrics reeeeeeeeeeeally aren't important in a good Eurovision song, it's still important that they be somewhat clearly sung.  The staging on this also feels dated in a bad way - this isn't a modern song by any means, but a lot of the tricks being deployed here feel like they're from 4 or 5 different other performances rather than doing anything super original.  I'd love to see this one make the final since it's a lovely performance, but I think it might be a little too stuck in the past to get there."

Will Nathan Trent Be "Running" to the ESC Finals for Austria? Mon, 13 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0500 847e4c29-2620-45e8-9814-539488f3ead8 "Nathan Trent's "Running on Air" has an easy, earnest quality, but will it get Austria to the Eurovision finals?

Post-Conchita Austria has had a bit of a spotty record with their entries for the Eurovision Song Contest. Two years ago, their entry while they hosted managed to get the dreaded Nul Points. While they rebounded a bit last year and qualified for the final with Zoe's "Loin D'Ici" last year, they still finished in 13th place, right in the middle of the pack.  Will Nathan Trent's "Running on Air" propel them any closer to another win?


I like this song, and for the longest time I haven't been able to put my finger on what it sounds like.  And then it sort of hit me - I used to watch a LOT of VH1's morning countdown show about 10 years ago, and they LOVED stuff like this.  This has tinges of Jason Mraz and (if we're going for a slightly more modern reference here) Ed Sheeran about it, but it definitely sounds like mid-2000s AOR-ish daytime drive stuff.  Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the ability of this to succeed is really going to be down to if the rest of Europe is super into the sound Nathan's selling here.

Another thing I don't love is that I haven't been able to find live footage of Nathan singing this song.  A lot of what provides the sizzle to a Eurovision entry's steak is not just the song, but the performer's ability on stage.  The video for this is great (and SUPER Austrian, what with the snow and the mountains and the lake), but I really want to know if Nathan's able to deliver this polished a performance live so that this song runs into the finals and not into a wall."

Australia's "Don't Come Easy" Goes Down Easy Fri, 10 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0600 5cb7cd96-a30e-4de3-83f4-4a06fb148e00 "Australia continues its Eurovision residency with the fantastic "Don't Come Easy" by Isaiah Firebrace.

The presence of Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest is a constant reminder of how every country should be approaching the competition. Since the country gets to participate as a special guest, they seem to be going above and beyond in making sure they do not squander the opportunity. After last year's phenomenal performance by Dami Im, finding an appropriate followup is an additional challenge.

Since a powerfully delivered ballad by a winner of Australia's version of The X Factor worked last year, SBS will be returning to that well this, having selected the most recent champion Isaiah Firebrace to represent the continent. Here's his song "Don't Come Easy":

Jeezy creezy, Australia's here to play again, y'all. This type of song normally isn't my jam, but Isaiah's vocal tone is incredible and somewhat unexpected. I'm reminded of France's Amaury Vassili (2011), who had incredible carriage despite his slight frame. Assuming he can deliver on the vocal on the live stage, Australia could be making another run for the gold medal.((Also, how insane would it be if Australia's 2015 fourth-place finish became the least successful of the three entries so far?))

Delivering a strong stage performance is going to be the determining factor of Isaiah's success. The video for "Don't Come Easy" doesn't do a great job of mixing the sound with the on-screen performance. This could be an issue with editing, direction, or perhaps Isaiah not being great at lip syncing, but he's going to need to bring the gravitas. I doubt that will be a problem--shrinking violets do not win The X Factor.

Australia's eating your lunch, Europe, and I am here for it."

Do We Love "This is Love" as Greece's Eurovision Entry? Thu, 09 Mar 2017 11:00:00 -0600 f9aa05a6-da81-4343-9556-527560d92fa6 "After missing out on the final for the first time ever last year, Greece goes back to the basics with "This is Love" by Demy.

Greece is in unfamiliar territory coming into this year's Eurovision Song Contest: having to bounce back after failing to qualify for the previous year's final. This, coupled with the country's continuing economic crisis, has made selecting viable Eurovision entries tricky.

The broadcaster went from considering an internal selection, to having a national final between two artists, before finally selecting dance pop singer Demy to carry the Greek flag. Then there was a national final with one of the three entries leaked beforehand. Also, the selection format switched from 100% public vote to a 70-30(?) Jury/Public split. Ultimately, "This is Love" (the leaked entry) prevailed. Sure, why not? Let's take a listen:

Despite all the shenanigans up to this point, this is an okay selection for Greece. I like that Demy is already an established performer who didn't come out of a reality talent competition. For her, this seems more like a considered career decision rather than her big break or a comeback, which is a somewhat unique position for any Eurovision entrant. I think that will put her on more solid footing than some of her competitors.

As for the song... it's fine. It's textbook European dance pop. If you were to ask me in a couple years when this song competed, I'll be able to give you a ballpark guess ranging anywhere from 2006 to the day before you asked me the question. This happens to be a year where a dance track is going to stand out from the rest of the field, so "This is Love" has that going for it.

Is Greece going to win with this song? No. Is Demy going to get Greece back to the Grand Final? Probably, especially if there's a strong stage performance accompanying the track."

Croatia, "My Friend", Jacques Houdek is Too Much Thu, 09 Mar 2017 07:00:00 -0600 57c92862-ffae-455e-8b56-c4b4a19d1b3b "Someone needs to tell Croatia that you don't need to do all the things at once.

After taking a few years off, Croatia had a decent return to the Eurovision stage last year with Nina Kraljić's "Lighthouse".  It was one of my favorites going into the competition, but Europe didn't necessarily agree with me, barely qualifying to the final and giving it only 75 points total, finishing 23rd overall.  Croatia tends to play around with what I'd call "traditional" Eurovision styles, whether pulling from classical traditions in the country (see 2013's "Mižerja") to more traditional ballads like last year's entry.

Unfortunately, they seem to be trying everything they've got all at once with this year's entry, Jacques Houdek's "My Friend":

I gave this one a hot "NOPE" after the spoken word entry, but I'm glad I stayed on, because I found this entry entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Jacques Houdek clearly has the vocal range to make this either a smooth, modern ballad in English OR a deep-voiced Italian-sung number that pulls from more classical traditions in Croatia. Unfortunately, he's doing both at once - I had to check for a performance video to make sure that there weren't actually multiple singers doing the main melody line.  The (often sudden) back and forth between his head voice and his chest voice gives the song a schizophonic quality that doesn't really impress me.

The other issue I have with this song are the lyrics - they're generic to the point of parody, and that spoken word intro DOES. NOT. HELP.  This is about 20 years of Eurovision songs about love and friendship run through a blender to the point of becoming a mush.  I'm predicting a live performance for this one that's static for the most part and leaves the heavy lifting to the camera.  Overall, my hopes aren't high for this one."

"Hey Mamma," Sunstroke Project is Back for Moldova Thu, 09 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0600 4aeb9bf4-385d-4023-a67a-1ac48db81db4 "In this episode: Epic Sax Guy does the Running Man.

In the early '10s, Moldova was a mainstay of delightfully weird at Eurovision; SunStroke Project and Olia Tira's 2010 entry, for example, spawned an epic worldwide meme. Even if "Run Away" wasn't particularly successful in terms of votes, it did set the right trajectory for other artists to finish just outside the top ten for the next three years with "So Lucky," "Lăutar," and "O Mie." A last-place entry in 2014 killed the Moldovan momentum machine, and they haven't qualified out of the semi-finals since. Can SunStroke Project recapture the energy and get their country back to the Final stage?

Let me get two things out of the way. First: while I am thrilled to see Epic Sax Guy's new Running Man dance move, that leg thing has got to stop. I can't tell if they're teaching horses to count, getting rid of the owie sprinkles, or what. Second: I have listened to this song an almost infinite number of times and I still don't know what it's about. Is the narrator an actual good guy? A garden-variety predator about whom Mamma has real reason to be worried? A narcomancer who steals women's dreams while they sleep at home? All seem plausible. I have yet to find a set of lyrics on the internet that look 100% correct, but even the lines I'm pretty sure about make no sense. What does "she'll be back home 'til sunrise" even mean?

That said, nothing diminishes my enjoyment of "Hey Mamma." I've listened to it an infinite number of times because it's really good, bringing a sound that invokes both Aminata and Ed Sheeran, and personifying everything about this contest that brings me joy. Superfluous LED instruments, questionable choreography, bad lyrics, brides singing into bouquet ... I challenge you to describe a more perfect Eurovision entry. I'm confident that the parts that need work will get it, and will remain hopeful the voting audience is as excited about this song as I am."

Portugal returns to Eurovision with "Amar Pelos Dois" Wed, 08 Mar 2017 08:00:00 -0600 564a0d95-3ed4-46e2-adca-779e60872612 ""Amar Pelos Dois" by Salvador Sobral has us excited about Portugal at Eurovision! This is a first!

Since I started to write about Eurovision in 2011, Portugal has yet to qualify for the Grand Final. It's understandable that the country has taken a step back a couple times in the last few years to rethink how it approaches its selections, including floating rumors of dropping its language rules((Songs are still in Portuguese, y'all.)) and hinting that big name artists like Nelly Furtado were considering the gig.((She wasn't.))

Although I enjoyed Portugal's last entry in the Contest--2015's "Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa" by Leonor Andrade--I totally get why that failed to connect with the audience. What is Portugal to do? How about getting Berklee College of Music graduate Luisa Sobral to write a beautiful ballad for her brother Salvador Sobral? Take a listen to "Amar Pelos Dois":

That was so unexpected and delightful, wasn't it? Not overly theatrical, no pyrotechnic unicyclists, just singing the song. This works as both a palate cleanser from a bombastic entry to a tone-setter for its half of the first semi-final. I'm excited to see how this entry evolves in the coming weeks.

In terms of what to work on: styling. In the above video, Salvador Sobral looks like he just walked out of a bus station on a rainy Wednesday on his way home from work. Although that may be part of the story of the song, the shabbiness is a little too shabby-shabby instead of shabby-chic.

I would also suggest figuring out something to keep his hands busy or some other distraction to minimize the affectations while singing. I realize there were some audio issues with his monitor, but there's a stiffness to his performance that is uncomfortable to watch.

Fortunately, there's two months to work through those issues, which is more than enough time. Good job, Portugal!"

Netherlands' Eurovision Entry Could Use More "Lights & Shadows" Tue, 07 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0600 f9124ebd-63c4-417b-86d1-8d4d110064b9 "Sister trio O'G3NE of the Netherlands revealed their entry "Lights & Shadows" for Eurovision 2017. Our first impression: needs more of both.<!--more-->

Since their selection as the Netherlands' Eurovision Song Contest representative for the 2017 competition in Kyiv, O'G3NE has established full control of the process. Their father has written and produced their entry "Lights & Shadows." It was also recently reported by Eurovoix that the group has decided not to work with the stage director the Netherlands has used for the last few years. I find this last development troubling, given how "Light & Shadows" sounds:

I was hoping the official music video was responsible for some of the over-production happening on this track but, sadly, this is not the case. Upon my first listen of the track, my immediate reaction brought to mind the Coco Chanel quote "Once you've dressed, and before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off." Here's a short list of things to remove:

  • Unnecessary reverb on the harmonies
  • Too many harmonies at the same volume level
  • The electric guitar string after the second verse
  • The 80s piano riff during the second chorus
  • The keychange isn't fully unearned, but the track is so aggressive with its wall of sound that it is difficult to listen all the way to that point in the song.

I think the Netherlands could be in trouble with this track. Unless there is some light and shadow introduced in the presentation instead of its current ALL CAPS delivery, this could be an uncomfortable three minutes to sit through."

"Where I Am" with Denmark's Choice of Anja Nissen for Kyiv Tue, 07 Mar 2017 03:00:00 -0600 3bcaf958-2951-4970-9449-5919464a77b6 "Anja Nissen's second attempt to represent Denmark at the Eurovision Song Contest is a strong performance.

This isn't Anja Nissen's first attempt at representing Denmark at the Eurovision Song Contest.  Last year, she did reasonably well in the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix with "Never Alone", but that song didn't feel truly original.  It was written by Emilie DeForest (who won the contest for Denmark a few years ago) and... kind of sounded like it.  One year later and it seems Anja's ready to try again with something that feels a little less derivative in "Where I Am":

In what's a bit of a rarity in the field this year, "Where I Am" keeps growing on me with each listen.  The opening's a little adult-contempo (in a bad way), but this quickly becomes a strong mid-tempo ballad with a catchy chorus.  This does a good job of straddling the worlds of "Eurovision" songs and what's going on in current pop, and feels like an easy qualifier to the final—at least compared to the other tracks I've heard at this stage of the competition.

The performance needs a little work, but it's in places that can easily be tightened up by the performance in Kyiv.  I'd love to see camerawork that works a little closer to Anja's performance—there's a lot of dramatic faraway shots that are great, but don't showcase her.  Anja's clearly a talented performer who wants this badly, so it would be a shame not to give her the spotlight she's worked for."

Could Hovig's "Gravity" Pull in a Win for Cyprus? Fri, 03 Mar 2017 05:00:00 -0600 41ce1ebf-2f7a-424c-9728-bd612c36fd49 "The much anticipated "Gravity" by Hovig may help raise people's opinion of Cyprus at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Cyprus came to play, y'all. Working again with Eurovision guru Thomas G:son, the island country has been unusually assertive in its Eurovision Song Contest rollout this year. The announcement of Hovig as their act came rather early in selection season and they have been working the social media hype machine quite heavily for the debut of their entry "Gravity":

Let's get the comparisons out of the way first. The melody reminds me heavily of Awolnation's "Sail" while the lyric delivery is reminiscent of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons. In Eurovision circles, I'm getting a strong vibe of Loic Nottet's "Rhythm Inside" while the video suggests we may be getting a stage performance rivaling what Sergey Lazarev did last year with the magic wall.

Let me be clear: none of those things are bad. Last year's entry from Cyprus was verrrrry similar to the Killers and various Eurovision rock performances and Minus One advanced to the final.

The challenge Hovig and Cyprus faces at the moment is the other half of the Eurovision field. This song is the 20th out of 43 to be announced, with a lot of heavy hitters waiting in the wings. "Gravity" is one of the strongest entries of the 20 revealed so far, but we haven't heard what Armenia, Australia, Serbia, Russia, Greece, or Azerbaijan have been working on.

"Gravity" could be setting a benchmark for 2017, which seems to be the goal of Cyprus. Good work."

Latvia Gets in "Line" Behind Triana Park Thu, 02 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0600 88085d3d-101e-4646-93ad-8193754e7578 "Latvia continues to experiment with electronic pop at Eurovision, selecting Triana Park's "Line" as their entry for Kyiv.

Finally, I get to take my turn to gush about Latvia's selection process Supernova. To put it into perspective: my favorite song so far of the 2017 selection season--Franco Franco's "Up"--didn't even make it out of the semi-final and I'm not mad. I don't know who convinced LTV to take a more experimental/college radio route in its approach to Eurovision entries, but I am here for it.

Case in point: this year's Supernova winner "Line" by the electronica group Triana Park. After five previous attempts((2008-2012)) to represent Latvia at Eurovision, the group finally found success with this track:

Similar to "Love Injected" and "Heartbeat", there's a slow build behind palpable restraint, eventually bursting through to a moment of rocking out. Although the lyrics are repetitive and not all that complex, the delivery reminds me of "Heads Will Roll" by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Also, since the band has been together for so long, they have a clearly developed aesthetic and stage presence that shines through in this performance.

I will be curious to see how Triana Park will heighten the performance for the stage in Kyiv. The performance above is actually pretty close to the studio version of the song, but I fear it could get swallowed up in a venue larger than the LTV studio. In the meantime, I'm hoping a kickass video will debut between now and May so we can see more of this group's aesthetic on display."

Ukraine Makes "Time" for O.Torvald Wed, 01 Mar 2017 21:00:00 -0600 340a0209-64d2-42bb-adb7-03f1701aad16 "Ukraine takes advantage of its free pass to the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final by sending the rock track "Time" by O.Torvald to Kyiv.

There have been many Eurovision songs in the last several years that have what I call the countdown effect. This is where a song either meanders to fill the allotted three minutes or ends abruptly because time is almost up. Ukraine has taken this metaphor to the next level, thanks to the winner of its national selection "Time" by the rock band O.Torvald.

There is a lot to love about this entry. First, this song is in no way a retread of last year's winning entry "1944" by Jamala, so it shows off the versatility of Ukraine's Eurovision process. As the host country, Ukraine gets an automatic pass to the Grand Final, which allows for a song outside of the Pop Music Industrial Complex to have a showcase it probably would not get otherwise. Austria's 2015 entry was a good example of this, though it failed to score any points in the Grand Final (oops). I think a song like this could advance from a semi-final, but better to bank on a sure thing.

That's not to say there isn't stuff to work on between now and May 13. The lyrics could use one more pass to clean up some of the phrasing. The vocals in the above video are thin and may get overwhelmed on a significantly larger stage. The timing devices also need better synchronization--the one-second differential distracted from the performance.

All in all, this is an excellent radio-friendly rock song that has the potential to do well for the home team."

Slovenia's Omar Naber is "On My Way" Back to Kyiv Tue, 28 Feb 2017 11:00:00 -0600 7505fa7d-ea01-4b41-a0b0-ce4bd02090fd "Omar Naber won over the jury in Slovenia's national final. What is our first impression of his song "On My Way"?

It isn't all that unusual for Eurovision alumni to pop up every now and again. However, in this case, Omar Naber has the unique distinction of representing Slovenia for a second time in the same host city as his previous participation.

Omar Naber performed "Stop" for Slovenia in the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest, which also took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. Unfortunately, he placed 12th in that year's semi-final, so he did not advance to the Grand Final stage. This year, he will perform the song "On My Way", which won Slovenia's EMA contest this past Friday.

.... Eh? I'm not finding much to get excited about with this track. There isn't much to the stage performance aside from the switch from black and white to color. There isn't much story in the song and the lyrics need another pass, which probably won't happen at this point. And don't get me started on that unearned key change.

If anything, this is a safe but unremarkable entry. Which is a shame, since I'm a huge Slovenia fan and there were some really good entries in this year's EMA. Though "On My Way" won the jury vote, the audience vote was overwhelmingly in favor of runner-up "Heart of Gold" by BQL (written by 2015 rep Maraaya). How overwhelming? BQL had 13,134 televotes to Omar Naber's 5,165. Slovenia's audience vote is based on fixed points, where first place gets 72 and second place gets 60, regardless of the difference in vote totals. Had Slovenia used a pooled points system, here's how the final standings would have shaken out:

[table id=16 /]


Maybe something to consider next year, Slovenia?"

Malta Sends Faniello "Breathlessly" to Kyiv Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:00:00 -0600 84ca8693-976d-413f-bee5-9315659eb470 "Will her song take your breath away?

Malta's last decade at Eurovision has been mostly a bad one, half the time failing to qualify into the final, and only once landing in the top ten. In Stockholm last year, former Eurovision runner-up Ira Losco got the country back on track, landing in 12th place with "Walk on Water." Hoping to harness that popularity for another successful year, Malta changed the rules for their selection process from a vote/jury combination to a 100% popular vote-based decision. Beating out fifteen other contestants, Claudia Faniello will take the stage for Malta in Kyiv.

Faniello has a great voice, and needs do nothing more than stand in a beautiful gown and sing her way into our hearts. The song is written, arranged, and staged well, and I am having a hard time finding fault with it. Perhaps that is part of the problem, though? I wonder if this entry is too slow and, more importantly, too forgettable to make a statement at Eurovision. "Breathlessly" reminds me a bit of the 2013 Israeli "Rak Bishvilo," a song I still listen to regularly, but which placed 14th in its semifinal, missing the finals by quite a lot. I still think Israel just got lost in the shuffle of that semifinal (which was not particularly strong), and I worry this song might fall into the same trap."

Poland's "Flashlight" Needs Some Batteries Tue, 21 Feb 2017 05:00:00 -0600 367c8e5d-7acc-4d81-9b5a-3b0d925bb2e8 "Kasia Mos' "Flashlight" needs some energy if it's going to qualify Poland for the 2017 Eurovision finals.

Poland managed to surprise me last year when their ballad "Color of Your Life" went all the way to 8th place.  I thought it was overdone and sort of Eurovision-by-the-Numbers, but that stuff tends to be template because it works, nevermind if the visual presentation accompanying it reminds you if Color Me Badd shopped Prince's garage sale at the end of the day when everything good's been picked over.  So it makes sense that this year's entry, Kasia Mos' "Flashlight" is trying to return to that same well:

My first impression of this song isn't that great - Kasia is really oversinging everything, and the whole song and performance is a bit of an overwrought downer.  There's some sort of metaphor about a flashlight in here, but it's not really clear and the lyrics seems to be mostly concerned with internal rhyme rather than a chorus.  This needs some oomph - they're clearly shooting for drama, but this just isn't bringing it."

Hungary Chooses "Origo" by Joci Pápai for Kyiv Mon, 20 Feb 2017 05:00:00 -0600 214e76c5-9583-4b72-81a8-40ac76b5561b "Hungary's A Dal 2017 wrapped up Saturday with the jury narrowing eight entries to four and the home audience making the final decision.<!--more-->

The finale of Hungary's A Dal 2017 changed up the format we've gotten used to these last few weeks. After the final eight acts performed, each jury member selected their four favorites, awarding 10-8-6-4 points to their selections. The four acts with the most points would move on to the superfinal, where the winner of the home vote gets a ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv.

Here's how things shook out on Saturday's show:

  • Gabi Toth opened the show with "Hosszú idők". Although she ranked on three of the four judges' lists, her 12 points were not enough to move on to the superfinal.
  • With no help available from the home audience, the surprise run of "Kalendor" by Soulwave came to an end. No points were awarded by the judges.
  • "See it Through" by Gigi Radics managed to pull an upset, sneaking into the superfinal with 14 points.
  • Somewhat surprising, Eurovision veteran Kallay Saunders Band received zero points from the judges for "17."
  • Leander Kills, the only survivor from the first heat, received eight points from one judge, but that was not enough to advance.
  • Zavodi + Olivér Berkes eased into the superfinal with 30 points for "#Hatterzaj".
  • "Origo" by Joci Pápai won the jury vote, earning 34 points with top marks from two judges.
  • Gina Kanizsa "Fall Like Rain" closed out the jury round, scoring only 14 points despite top marks from one juror.

Considering Gigi Radics and Joci Pápai were the only acts to receive more than a 5 from the home audience throughout the competition, my guess is the home vote was between those two entries. However, Joci Pápai's song has a point of view and delivery that will make it stand out in the Eurovision field, moreso than the cliche mess of "See It Through".((Spoiler: I did not like that song.))

I still maintain my concern that the rap element could be an obstacle for Hungary, but it seems like every year there is a major obstacle Hungary manages to overcome as it continues its qualifying hot streak. Also, the way that the A Dal process vets entries through repeat listening and variation in competitive fields shows that this song could work. I will be interested to see what tweaks (if any) happen in the next few weeks as Joci Pápai prepares to compete.

Good job and good luck, Hungary!"

Italy Banks On "Occidentali's Karma" Thu, 16 Feb 2017 12:00:00 -0600 a90967e6-4d77-45f8-a772-00a1ed1f6353 "Also an ape with a bowtie.

Sanremo, Italy's multistage music festival, has a track record of producing strong winners. Since 2011, every Sanremo-selected entry has done well at Eurovision, accounting for four top-ten finishes. The other two entries in that time period were not Sanremo winners and ... well, let's say they were not received as enthusiastically. Eurovision lovers were so excited to hear this year's Sanremo winner, Francesco Gabbani, would be taking "Occidentali's Karma" to Kyiv that they made it the most-watched video ever on Italian Vevo the very first day it was published.

After a few rounds of watching, I'm still mentally filing this video under "Maybe awesome? Maybe a joke?" along with last year's San Marinese disco whatever-that-was. I think I get why people love this song. It's chock-full of cultural references, and questions how the West turns to Eastern spirituality for temporary comfort while remaining materialistic at the core. I can't help but roll my eyes at the hypocrisy, though, when that message is being delivered through a pop song contest by one man in an impeccable Italian suit and another wearing an actual ape suit.

Musically speaking this song is pretty solid, if about 30 seconds too long. It's upbeat and catchy, with lots of obvious places for audience participation. I love the gravelly texture of Gabbani's voice, and his enthusiasm is so infectious that I can't help but enjoy the performance, in spite of what I said before. For that reason -- and because I generally love hearing songs at Eurovision that aren't in English -- I really hope they decide to keep the Italian lyrics, and not switch in full or part to English, as has been speculated. Only twice in the past 20 years has a non-English language song won the Contest, but given how good Italy has been in recent years and how overwhelming the response has been so far, I think Gabbani and his ape friend could be just the ones to pull it off."

Spain's Controversial "Do It For Your Lover" Wed, 15 Feb 2017 05:00:00 -0600 6e4f428f-a71a-4035-9e66-bfc4db318f91 "Eurovision selection season lacked drama until this past Saturday, when Spain's selection of "Do It for Your Lover" caused all sorts of controversy.<!--more-->

Spain has never been one of my favorite countries at Eurovision. A big part of it is a difference in taste, in that what the Spanish public responds to doesn’t line up with what I respond to musically, and that’s fine—not everyone likes broccoli. However, when it comes to process, Spain could try to avoid being ass-backwards in how they administer their Eurovision entries.

Case in point: this past weekend’s Objetivo Eurovision. As is often the case when Spain decides to do a national final, there is a split between the jury vote and the audience vote. Each juror is responsible for ⅙ of the scores (three jurors means half of the final score is determined by the jury). The televote has a pool of points equal to the total pool of jury points. These points are divvied on a share basis, where an act that receives 10% of the vote will receive 10% of the pool. It's an improvement over the jury as a whole and the audience each giving a 12-10-8 score, but it could be better.

In the event of a tie, the customary mechanism is to defer to the public vote as the tie-breaker. However, Objetivo Eurovision determined that the jury should break the tie between audience favorite Mirela and jury point-leader Manel Navarro. Here are their tracks:

Mirela - "Contigo" Manel Navarro - "Do It for Your Lover"

Spoiler: the Jury stuck with their original choice. You know who wasn't happy with that? Well, the studio audience for one:

By the way, that's the broadcaster who posted that tweet. The folks over at WiWiBlogs has a thorough rundown of the full Spanish selection controversy.

Unfortunately, it's this context that provides the first impression for Spain's Eurovision selection "Do It for Your Lover" by Manel Navarro. This performance is perfectly pleasant, but not anything extraordinary. The chorus doesn't have much of a hook and the stage performance is rather blah, so I'm doubtful this song as is will make much of an impact in Kyiv.

This is yet another example of Spain coasting on its Big Five status to get to the final with a song that would not make it out of the semis. Sigh."

France Picks a "Requiem," But They're Not Dead Yet Tue, 14 Feb 2017 13:00:00 -0600 1f3ae95b-1d0f-49e2-96c2-1d6188c324ab "The last decade of Eurovision results have been pretty dismal for the French. Rumors of their demise may have been greatly exaggerated.

I don't know what it is about France's recent Eurovision entries; when I enjoy them, they end up in last place, or very nearly last place. When I think they're just meh, they do really well. After a decade of poor results, and hoping to build on their success in 2016, France opened up what had been a closed internal selection process for public submissions. Their ultimate choice, newcomer Alma, will sing a song written by Nazim Khaled. He also wrote "J'ai cherché," which ended up in sixth place last year in Stockholm. How does "Requiem" stack up?

This entry is closer to meh than wow for me, which I suppose bodes well for France's chances. "Requiem" is danceable, with a Middle-Eastern sound that keeps it from trending sugary-sweet. The melody is easy enough to follow, and the break in the middle keeps the beat from becoming too repetitive. It's generic enough to have come from any number of French-speaking countries, and while I prefer entries that show some cultural flair, a broader appeal is smart for gaining votes.

There aren't any major areas of improvement needed in the music, and we don't have any idea as to how they'll stage this yet. The dancers in the video are a nice touch, even if I rolled my eyes at the unnecessary green-screen trickery, which felt very "uhhhh, where can we fit these people in the frame, OH I KNOW, we'll put them on the side of the building." Overall, I guess I like it? I don't hate it. And that's something."

Germany's Less Than "Perfect Life" Tue, 14 Feb 2017 05:00:00 -0600 64b729d6-4307-40cc-894d-72b6a1ed88b9 "So...Germany doesn't want to win this year's Eurovision Song Contest, right?  Levina's "Perfect Life" is DOA.

Germany's had a rough time at the last few Eurovision Song Competitions.  Since winning with Lena's "Satellite" in 2010 (which, hot take: I never really got the hype of), they've mostly been scraping the bottom (and in the last two years, being the bottom, with Ann Sophie's "Black Smoke" getting the dreaded nul points in 2015 and Jamie-Lee Kriewitz's "Ghost" only getting 11 points in 2016).  Maybe it's their selection method?  Unser Song is a marathon of a qualifier that takes place over the course of three hours with questionable cover song choices, multiple rounds of televoting, and (this year, at least) the possibility that a competitor may be facing themselves in the finale.  For all that effort, you'd think they'd have produced something more exciting than Levina's "Perfect Life":

After some weird voting shenanigans, Germany was very clear they wanted Levina to represent them, with her singing either "Wildfire" or "Perfect Life".  "Perfect Life" won the final vote, and while it's definitely the more energetic of the two songs, it's like saying a beige room is energetic.  Levina gives a performance that I'd say would qualify her to get through the first round of The Voice, but doesn't really do anything that feels worthy of winning the hearts of the rest of Europe.  If not for Germany's position in the Big 6, I dare say this would be an easy elimination from whichever semifinal it was slotted in.

There's still plenty of time to turn this ship around, but how?  The song is a bland Sia knockoff, so lean into that with the performance - I want a tiny German Maddie Ziegler giving something to be excited about.  At the very least, run Levina through a crash course in being a dynamic performer - if all she does is stand on stage to deliver this one in Kyiv, this is an easy last place for me given what we've already seen coming to the Eurovision stage."

Hungary: Two A Dal Semi-Finals, Eight A Dal Finalists Mon, 13 Feb 2017 05:00:00 -0600 adbb6c0a-cdd3-43d6-87f9-e5860a44dff6 "A Dal 2017 held two semi-finals this weekend to determine the eight finalists who will compete for Hungary's slot at the Eurovision Song Contest.<!--more-->

From 30 acts at the beginning of this process, we are down to 18 competing in the semi-finals of Hungary's A Dal 2017. Each semi-final has nine acts performing their entries for the panel of judges and viewer votes. This time around, the three acts with the most points automatically move on to the finals and the remaining six are subjected to another round of audience voting for a wildcard slot. In the end, four acts from each semi-final will advance to this Saturday's final.

Here are the eight acts that will compete for Hungary's ticket to Kyiv.

First Semi-Final

1st Place (Tie) - Gina Kanizsa "Fall Like Rain" - 45 points

This song will be going into Saturday's final as the judges' favorite, earning a perfect score of 40 from the panel. The song will not be going into Saturday's final as the audience favorite, as Friday's performance earned only 5 points from the televote. I LOL'd at that reveal.

1st Place (Tie) - Joci Pápai "Origo" - 45 points

Friday's performance of this track landed better for me than in its debut in heat 3. I still have my concerns about it being successful as a Eurovision entry, as well as it standing out in the rest of this finalist field. If it can pull a late draw (as it did in heat 3 and the semi-final), a trip to Kyiv could be in Joci Pápai's future.

3rd Place - Gigi Radics "See it Through" - 42 points

Although she had the highest score of all 30 acts in the preliminary rounds, this is the only song of the eight finalists to have a lower score after the semi-final. Yes, it's only a drop of one point, but could that be an indication that this song may not have the staying power of a viable Eurovision contender?

Wildcard - Soulwave "Kalandor" - 37 points

DO NOT DOUBT THE POWER OF CUTE GUYS WITH GUITARS. This could be one of the biggest upsets in the entirety of this year's Eurovision selection season. The judges gave this song middling scores, but the audience vote once again came through to send Soulwave to the next round. The jury may be too much of a roadblock in the final, as they will determine which four acts will advance to the superfinal. If Soulwave manages to squeak through to the superfinal, will the audience send the band to Ukraine?

Second Semi-Final

1st Place - Gabi Toth "Hosszú idők" - 44 points

What a pleasant surprise: a song and performance I really enjoy not only made it to the final, but it won the second semi-final. The home audience seems to dig this song too, as it received 7 points from the televote.((Except for Adam Szabo's 8 points in the preliminary rounds, 7 has been the high water mark for the audience vote.)) I'm hoping this will pull a late draw in the final for the jury portion so that it can breeze through to the superfinal.

2nd Place (Tie) - Leander Kills "Élet" - 43 points

As a song, this is executed well and is a perfectly pleasant performance. Unfortunately, there is nothing particularly remarkable about this track or performance. It's a shame that checking so many boxes won't be rewarded, but I fear that this will end up forgotten among the showier, more bombastic entries in the rest of the field.

2nd Place (Tie) - Zavodi + Olivér Berkes "#Hatterzaj" - 43 points

The score increase from heat 3 to the semi-final was all thanks to the judges. The audience gave this song 5 points in both rounds, which is not all that surprising. The song is good, but the theatrics of a piano bursting into flames may be a bad omen for Eurovision. I can see the judges moving this along to the superfinal, but the audience is clearly indifferent about this entry.

Wildcard - Kállay Saunders Band "17" - 42 points

This song had no change in score between the preliminary heat and the semi-final. If this means the judges haven't seen improvement, that could prove to be an obstacle when it comes to the jury vote at the final. I would also be curious to see the vote breakdown between this entry and Adam Szabo's song in the second round of voting, as I imagine "Together" was close to snatching this wildcard spot.


Since the jury will select which four entries will move on to the superfinal, let's look at the total points each act received from the judges.

[table id=15 /]


Based on this table, it looks like "Fall Like Rain", "#Hatterzaj", and "Origo" will probably move on to the superfinal. That leaves one spot up for grabs. Since "Elet" and "Hosszú idők" both showed improved scores from heat to semi, I would suspect one of these will take the fourth spot. Given that "Hosszú idők" is more of a performance, I will give the edge to that song.

Assuming these four entries move forward, my guess would be that the real competition will be between "Hosszú idők" and "Origo" since both have resonated with the audience. Although I would prefer "Hosszú idők" to go Eurovision, my gut is telling me Joci Pápai should block off the first two weeks of May for some travel to Kyiv.

The final of A Dal 2017 airs Saturday at 19.30 CET / 1:30pm Eastern on Duna World."

Can Timebelle Get Switzerland to the Eurovision Final? Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:00:00 -0600 28905dd1-a663-4002-8501-b537dc68f04c "Switzerland has been stymied by what makes an entry successful at Eurovision. Timebelle's "Apollo" could be the best shot for the Swiss in the last several years.

Switzerland needs some rejuvenation in the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2015, Melanie Rene's "Time to Shine" finished in absolute last place among all the semi-finalists. Last year, Rykka's "The Last of Our Kind" was the last of its semi-final. On the whole, Switzerland has only qualified for the final four times since semi-finals were introduced in 2004.

This past Sunday, the selection process Die Entscheidungsshow featured six acts competing for a ticket to Kyiv. The winner, decided by 100% public vote, was Bern-based band Timebelle with the song "Apollo." Here's the performance from the show:

This song was by far the best entry of the six in the competition. Lyrically, the song is 95% of the way there--I would like it to get one more editing pass to clear up some clunkiness in the metaphors. The vocals are fine, though this video isn't the best example. All of the performances in the national final seemed a bit off((Possibly a studio sound issue?)), and this video was the victory lap performance.

My issue with the song has to do with the structure of the chorus. It reminds me a little too much of "Impossible" by Shontelle, perhaps if it were redone by Ryan Tedder. On the plus side, that's the most pop-friendly Switzerland has been in the last several years, though that particular combination is locked in 2012, so... not necessarily contemporary. That's not to say this entry is doomed, but perhaps tinkering with the arrangement is something Timebelle should consider.

Switzerland has made several questionable choices for its Eurovision entries, but this song is a step in the right direction. I'll be curious to hear what changes happen between now and when the final draft of the song is due next month."

Hungary: A Dal 2017 Finishes Preliminary Heats Mon, 06 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0600 5d0b6b0d-376a-4c63-80a6-64b6f0f48a0a "A Dal 2017 finished the preliminary rounds Saturday, with six more acts advancing to this weekend's semi-finals.<!--more-->

Thirty acts entered Hungary's A Dal 2017((Well, 32 if you count the disqualifications)), but only 18 will move on to the semi-finals. The last six acts to make it to the semi-finals were decided by jury and public vote on Saturday's edition of the competition. A new frontrunner may have emerged as well as an underdog brought through by the wildcard vote.

Here are the six acts that advanced following this week's show:

1st Place - Gigi Radics "See it Through" - 43 points

Shocking. That's the only way to describe my reaction to how well this song did. This is by far the most Eurovision-iest song in Hungary's competition, hitting every single power ballad cliche with gusto. I am not a fan, but apparently I'm in the minority. This song earned the highest score in all three heats, so maybe Hungary is picking up on something that I'm missing.

2nd Place (Tie) - Zävodi + Olivér Berkes "#háttérzaj" - 41 points

This song had one of the most solid male vocals I've heard in this year's competition, though that high note toward the end needs a little more air if the singer wants to hit it correctly. I'm not sure the piano catching on fire is the best staging choice since the last act to do that scored nil points in Vienna. I would be interested to see #háttérzaj trending into the A Dal final.

2nd Place (Tie) - Gabi Toth "Hosszú idők" - 41 points

I enjoyed this performance quite a bit. The stage performance seems fully thought out and doesn't rely too heavily on pyrotechnics or other foofery. The graphic in the background is a little too similar to Jamala's tree from last year's Eurovision final, but that is easily fixed. I would suggest keeping an eye on this one.

2nd Place (Tie) - Joci Pápai "Origo" - 41 points

This is a tricky entry. On the one hand, there are a lot of interesting and unexpected elements coming into play in this performance. However, there are also a number of elements that don't play well on the Eurovision stage--perhaps a little to culturally specific, and the rapping at the end reminds me of Bosnia and Herzegovina's failed entry last year. I'll be curious to see how this does in the semi-finals.

5th Place - The Couple "Vége van" - 38 points

This piano ballad is fine, but I have to wonder if Finland's entry may have an impact on the Couple progressing through the competition. The song style and staging of both entries are quite similar, and we don't need 2017 to turn into another downer duet year.((I'm looking at you, 2015.))

Wildcard - Soulwave "Kalandor" - 34 points

Do not doubt the power of a band of cute guys with guitars. This group finished tied for last place in the heat and got through on the viewer vote. They even beat fellow cute guy with guitar Benjámin Pál, whose song I preferred. They will be going into the semi-finals with the lowest score of all the acts, so it will be interesting to see if audience support will be able to carry the band through to the final.

Later this week we'll find out which acts are assigned to which semi-final. Then on Friday and Saturday, the 18 acts will be cut down to 8 as Hungary gets closer to making its Eurovision selection."

This Week in Eurovision: Switzerland, Italy, and Germany Choose Sun, 05 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0600 b8949e99-03e9-49f6-9a86-94066d36204f "It's the first full week of February, which means that Eurovision Selection Season is full speed ahead. Here's what's happening the week of February 5, 2017.<!--more-->

National Finals

  • Switzerland: The six finalists for Die Entscheidungsshow(Which I keep reading as "Entschuldigung") will take the stage to become the Swiss representative in Kyiv. The winner will be determined by 100% public vote. The show starts at 20.05 CET / 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific and should be viewable on the SRF Zwei webstream.
  • Italy: The 67th edition of the Sanremo Music Festival begins Tuesday evening, with the final taking place Saturday. 22 acts will perform in the Big Artist category, with the winner of the festival receiving the opportunity to represent Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest. It is possible that the winner will not compete in Kyiv (last year's Sanremo winner didn't compete in Stockholm) or that a different song could be chosen (like in 2012), but this process has produced fantastic results for Italy. The festival airs on RAI at 21.00 CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific each night.
  • Germany: Deutschland has adopted a somewhat convoluted format for Unser Song fur Kyiv. In the first round, the five contestants will do covers of songs ranging from Johnny Cash to Adele. Three will advance to perform one of the two songs that will be Germany's entry. One more contestant will be eliminated, then the remaining two will perform the other song up for consideration. The final round will feature the two preferred performances: one artist doing both songs, both artists doing one song, or each artist doing either song. 26th place is tough, yo. The final airs Thursday on ARD at 20.15 CET / 2:15pm Eastern / 11:15am Pacific.


  • Israel: Six contestants remain on Rising Star. On Monday's episode, they will be placed in three pairs to duel for votes. The winners of each duel will advance to next week's final. On Tuesday, the three contestants who lost the duel will battle each other for the fourth finale slot.
  • Hungary: A Dal will have a double dose of semi-finals this week. The first semi-final will be held Friday, due to heat 2's postponement after last month's tragic bus crash in Italy. The second semi-final will be held on Saturday. Both shows should start at 18.30 CET / 12:30pm Eastern / 9:30am Pacific on Duna World.
  • Estonia: The first semi-final of Eesti Laul 2017 will feature 10 acts competing for five slots in the final to be held March 4.
  • Ukraine: The second of three semi-finals will take place Saturday with another eight acts fighting for two spots in the host country's final. The show should begin at 17.00 CET / 11am Eastern / 8am Pacific.

Preliminary Rounds

  • Romania: All this week, TVR will feature auditions for their national selection. You can watch the process live on the TVR website starting at 20.00 CET / 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific.

  • Latvia: Supernova will have its first live show today. Eleven acts will perform with two advancing to the semi-final based on public voting. Then, the jury will select two more entries to advance from the remaining contenders. The show will start at 20.30 CET / 2:30pm Eastern / 11:30am Pacific on LTV.

  • Sweden: Melfest Heat 2 will be held in Malmö, with seven acts competing for two spots in the final and two spots in the second chance round. The show will air on SVT at 20.00 CET / 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific.


Melfest 2017 Kicks Off in Gothenburg Sat, 04 Feb 2017 15:00:00 -0600 15f63c1e-53d5-4479-b093-0f8bf22545dd "Selection season for Sweden started Saturday with the first heat of the annual Melodifestivalen competition. Let the pop music battle royale begin!<!--more-->

Sweden's Melodifestivalen (aka Melfest) began Saturday with the first of four preliminary heats. Round one took place in Gothenburg with the following seven acts performing:

  1. Boris Rene - "Her Kiss"
  2. Adrijana - "Amare"
  3. Dinah Nah - "One More Night"
  4. De Vet Du - "Road Trip"
  5. Charlotte Perrelli - "Mitt Liv"
  6. Ace Wilder - "Wild Child"
  7. Nano - "Hold On"

After the seven acts performed, the first two eliminated based on public voting were Adrijana and Charlotte Perrelli. "Amare" could be a good club hit, but it might trend too close to Iggy Azalea's style to be attractive to a wider audience. Despite representing Sweden at Eurovision twice (and winning the first of those two times), Perrelli's ballad got lost in the power pop shuffle of Saturday's show.

In the second round of voting, Nano earned the first slot in the Melfest finals with "Hold On." While the vocals fall into the white blues/soul category, the instrumentation has electronic dance patterns. The camerawork uses a lot of tricks from last year's entry "Human" from Oscar Zia, which might not be helpful for the overall success of this song.

Also borrowing a lot from last year is Melfest veteran Ace Wilder, who earned the second final slot. "Wild Child" is a typical Ace Wilder song, with lots of layered vocals and shouting at the audience that would be annoying if it weren't so darn infectious. The floor and stage graphics seem to be pulling from the surplus heap from Sweden hosting Eurovision last year, including using the same collapsing cliff image from Latvia's performance. This isn't my favorite song, but I'm not surprise that it advanced.

The two songs advancing to the Andra Chansen round in four weeks belong to Boris Rene and De Vet Du. "Her Kiss" is a more straightforward song than Boris Rene's entry last year and he has stepped up his stage performance skills. I'm a fan. Meanwhile, this year's beefcake band De Vet Du has a rather boring VW ad of a performance for "Road Trip." If someone doesn't make a few fan videos mashing up this song and scenes from FFXV, I will be disappointed. That means Dinah Nah's "One More Night" has also been eliminated from the competition. Her song would have been current in 2009, but it felt dated and cliched among this year's crowd.

Next week Melfest moves to Malmö and features the return of Mariette, Roger Pontare, and Lisa Ajax to the competition."

Norma John Brings The Drama for Finland Fri, 03 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0600 62592b6d-6080-4c25-a6fc-d788c5a44066 "Is Finland doing okay, y'all?

Finland tends to be the wildcard of the Nordic nations at Eurovision - I've jokingly referred to them as being the most hipster of the Scandi-bloc (given the more ridiculous outfits their judges panel tends to show off), but their taste is actually pretty eclectic - we've had everything from Softengine's alt-rock "Something Better" (which placed 11th, their best since 2006) to last year's more disco-inflected "Sing It Away" from Sandja...which didn't make the finals.  I'm starting to get concerned that it's getting to Finland, since they eschewed some lighter entries for a more dramatic entry this year, Norma John's "Blackbird":

There were other entries I liked better in their final ("Helppo Elämä" from Lauri Yrjola stood out, in particular, and would have been my pick), but on re-listening, it's easy to see why this one. Leena Tirronen's vocals throughout are strong, and there's a nice moment for pianist Lasse Piirainen to show off his skills as well.  There's a dark drama to the full performance, and I'd love to see them find a way to make the staging bigger in Kyiv - at least get some more fog in there!"

Lucie Jones Will Never Give Up on the UK Thu, 02 Feb 2017 12:00:00 -0600 95c5f489-656a-4884-a50b-2b9eb4ae6822 "No word yet on whether she'll let you down, run around, or desert you.

The United Kingdom has had a ... rocky? ... relationship with Eurovision the last two decades, mostly sending entries that probably wouldn't have qualified if required to compete in the semifinals. After a short run of internal selections in the early 2010s, they've returned to a public voting process. This year's "Eurovision: You Decide" television special has resulted in the selection of X Factor alumna Lucie Jones and her song, "Never Give Up On You."

My first thought, never having heard of Jones, was to wonder whether she had theater experience. Sure enough, after she was booted from X Factor early in the 2009 season (the same one that spawned personal Eurovision favorite Jedward), she played Cosette in Les Miz, Molly in Ghost the Musical, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and Maureen Johnson in Rent. That is a ridiculous / amazing lineup, and explains my instant affinity for her voice quality. In case that wasn't enough, this song was written by 2013 Eurovision winner Emmelie de Forest, with whom I share a birthday. And so I'm in the strange position of liking -- nay, loving -- an entry from the United Kingdom.

I do have some desires in terms of improvements for this entry. The staging needs drama; light beams are a good start but it doesn't build in the way I want. The same is true for the orchestration. Right now everything --  with the exception of Jones' voice -- is just a little too sparse. With three months left to the contest, that's a great problem to have."

NaviBand Shares Historyja Majho Zyccia for Belarus Thu, 02 Feb 2017 12:00:00 -0600 c18e27a5-6ece-4f8e-a258-cc4173b4d7e2 "In case you don't speak Belarusian, that's "Story of My Life."

Belarus hasn't had much success with final placements in the last few contests, but they do seem to have taken the baton from Moldova in terms of the delightfully weird. This year's entry, "Historyja majho zyccia" (Story of My Life) by NaviBand, was selected by a combination of jury and public vote, and seems like a natural successor to 2014's twerpy hamster date and 2016's naked wolfman.

This song reminds me of what Three Minutes to Earth (Georgia 2014) might have achieved if it hadn't been such a musical hot mess: upbeat, high-energy without being manic, and unfailingly positive. I caught myself grinning like a fool the first time I listened to this entry, which is really something considering I'd just been trudging through the muck that is USian news these days. Both performers have great voices (just one or two minor pitch issues), and they do an amazing job of selling the emotion. I'm having a hard time finding fault, honestly.

I have only two requests for NaviBand and their team. First: please, for the love of god, do not translate the lyrics for the main contest. The English lyrics are good -- much better than I expected, if I'm being honest. The Belarusian lyrics sound GREAT, though, and contribute some much-needed cultural diversity into the contest. If they keep the lyrics as-is, it'll also be the first time for a performance in Belarusian at Eurovision, which would be a great trivia item. Second: actually don't change anything at all. Just get you four dancers in folk attire, add some graphics to the stage floor, and keep these two on a steady diet of uppers for the next five months."

Georgia Trusts Tako to "Keep the Faith" Wed, 01 Feb 2017 12:00:00 -0600 123736f5-cc5a-45f7-8103-ca2bb65a9bce "They also trust her to poke the bear.

Back in 2009, Georgia sent Stephane & 3G to the contest (hosted in Moscow) with "We Don't Wanna Put In" ... or attempted to, anyway. The anti-Russian sentiment was exactly as subtle as the title suggests, Georgian organizers refused to change the lyrics, and the entry was disqualified.

This year, through a combination of international jury and public voting, the former Soviet republic has selected Tako Gachechiladze -- a member of the '3G' from that ill-fated 2009 entry -- and her song, "Keep the Faith." While there's nothing in the lyrics that explicitly calls out Russia, take a look at the national final performance and pay attention to the screen during the second verse.

(I can't decide whether the camera cutting quickly away from the "Russia Invades Georgia" headline was an "oh-crap" production moment, or a coincidence.)

Not a coincidence: I reacted to this song with glee, much like with last year's winner, and may have even yelled "GET 'EM" at my laptop. That was as much for the political content as it was for Gachechiladze's voice, which is strong and clear, and her backing vocalists, who contribute enough punch for the melody to rise above the heavy symphonic accompaniment. There are a couple of weaker moments -- just before the first (!!) key change, Gachechiladze doesn't quite hit her note, and there are some slight pitch issues between her and the backing vocalists right after the second (!!) key change. She finishes strong, though, and that can erase many vocal sins.

As much as enjoy this song, I'm not sure how strongly I feel about it as a Eurovision entry. The hook is not very catchy, and it's challenging to follow the melody. There's some weird minor-key stuff happening that makes sense musically, but that took me a couple of listens to really grab onto. Visually, though, they've already got a very clear plan, which I appreciate. (Free idea: remove the Russia-related headlines / imagery and substitute whatever terrible thing is happening in the US.) The LED tracks on her dress are a little low-budget and cheesy in comparison to the video board, but that's easy enough to upgrade.

I look forward to seeing if/how Russia reacts, how the visual presentation morphs, and whether the two key changes remain.((Hey, it worked last year for Poland!)) If this power ballad is an indication of the entry quality moving forward, we're in for a very competitive contest, indeed."

Eurovision Song Contest 2017 Semi-Final Allocation Tue, 31 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0600 87082b0e-b016-40ff-a34f-9becefe69f24 "Hooray! There's finally some structure to this year's Eurovision Song Contest, as the 43 competing countries have received their semi-final assignments.<!--more-->

Kyiv, Ukraine was buzzing Tuesday morning as the Eurovision Song Contest held the 2017 semi-final allocation draw. In this process, the 37 countries competing in the two semi-finals were placed in pre-determined bowls based on previous voting history, then randomly assigned either the first or second half of one of the semis.

Make that 36 countries: Switzerland requested and received placement in the second semi-final.

Also, the Big 5 countries--France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and United Kingdom--along with host country Ukraine learned which semi-final in which each country will vote. Germany also requested and received placement in the second semi-final.

Here is how the allocation shook out:

[table id=13 /]


[table id=14 /]


These tables will fill out over the next two months as more national finals are held and internal selections are made. The next organizational deadline for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest will be in mid-to-late March, when participants will need to have their artists, songs, and a video available.

By late March or early April, we should know the precise running order for each semi-final, as determined by the Contest producers. We will also learn where in the Grand Final running order Ukraine will draw.

Rehearsals for the Eurovision Song Contest should take place at the beginning of May, with the clock ticking down to the first semi-final on Tuesday, May 9."

This Week in Eurovision: Latvia, United Kingdom, and Finland Sun, 22 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0600 0ee56a49-b587-4143-9dee-76c7192880fa "This week in Eurovision: Latvia's Supernova begins while the UK and Finland make their choices.<!--more-->


Sunday will feature the first installment of Latvia's Eurovision Song Contest selection series Supernova. This week's episode will be the first of two backstage and audition episodes. 22 acts will take part in this year's competition in the hopes of keeping Latvia's recent streak of success alive. You can watch the LTV livestream at 20.25 CET / 2:25pm Eastern.

Eurovision: You Decide

The United Kingdom will be the first of the Big 5 to choose their Eurovision act. On Monday, we will find out the six acts that will compete for the ticket to Kyiv. BBC Radio 2's Ken Bruce Show will start the announcement at 10.30 CET / 5:30 Eastern.

Then on Friday, those six acts will perform on Eurovision: You Decide. This year will feature a panel of three judges as well as an audience vote to determine the winner. The judges will be Bruno Tonioli from Dancing with the Stars, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and reality competition consultant CeCe Sammy. The show will air on BBC 2 at 20.30 CET / 2:30pm Eastern.


Finally, Finland will make its Eurovision selection with Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu on Saturday. This will be the sixth time Finland has used the format to select its representative. The event will be hosted by Krista Siegfrids, who won in 2013 and will be competing in Sweden's Melodifestivalen next month. The show airs at 19.00 CET / 1pm Eastern."

Albania: Lindita's BOTË is the First Song of Eurovision 2017 Tue, 17 Jan 2017 11:00:00 -0600 8ac183d6-4991-4c9e-b3f4-3ad6032fbab8 "Albania selected its Eurovision entry last month and we finally have a first impression of Lindita's "BOTË." We've been busy?<!--more-->

Albania revamped its Eurovision selection process Festivali i Kenges for 2016. First, two semi-finals whittled the field of 24 songs down to a manageable((and not at all tedious)) 14 finalists. Second, the viewing public got to vote along with 12 jurors on who would win a ticket to Kyiv. A nice idea, though the home vote had zero effect on how the jury ranked the 14 finalists.

Lindita Halimi's "BOTË" had an insurmountable lead with top marks from five jurors and points from six more. She received points from the home vote, but ranked third in that category. Let's take a listen to the selection:

I am always secretly rooting for Albania and have been frustrated with many of their entries in the last few years. This is far and away their best entry since "Suus" in 2012. Lindita's reality competition experience -- including American Idol and Ethet (Albanian Idol) -- shines through this performance. She manages to avoid over-singing the song despite the orchestra behind her, which could have easily tripped up anyone.

We already know that this song will be reworked quite a bit between now and mid-March when final drafts of songs are due. Most likely "BOTË" will be translated into English. There will need to be some tightening up to get the song under three minutes. The power of the orchestration might need to be toned down a smidge, while avoiding sounding too similar to "Goodbye (Shelter)" from last year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Also, without the orchestra on stage, there will need to be a more dynamic presentation. I would not be surprised if "BOTË" were placed at the start of whichever semi-final Albania gets allocated to, as this would be a fantastic track to open the show. This song could be the breakthrough Albania needs to get back to getting noticed at Eurovision."

Hungary: A Dal 2017 Kicks Off Mon, 16 Jan 2017 15:00:00 -0600 5d3b3985-8a89-470b-b19d-8e67a4de7d0c "Hungary's Eurovision selection process A Dal 2017 began Saturday with 10 songs competing. Which six songs advanced to the semi-finals?<!--more-->

Hungary has had an impressive run at Eurovision in recent years, qualifying for the final every year since returning in 2011. Part of this success could be attributed to the country's selection process called A Dal, which has been used since 2012.

A Dal 2017 began this past Saturday with the first set of 10 songs out of thirty performing for judges and the Hungarian public. After each performance, the panel of four judges offers critiques and each judge gives a score of one to 10 points. The judges are Both Miklos, Zseda, Frenreisz Karoly, and Caramel.

The home audience also gets to rate the performance via the A Dal app and SMS, adding another one to 10 points to the final score. The five acts with the most points automatically move on to the semi-finals. Another round of app/SMS voting opens for the other five acts, with the winner of that vote added to the semi-finals as a wildcard.

Here are the six acts that advanced following this week's show.

1st Place (Tie) - Leander Kills "Élet" ("Life") - 40 points

Although this song didn't really grab me during Saturday's show, the performance was straightforward. It may have benefited from going second in the running order, as it didn't have a chance to be forgotten among other entries. I'll be curious to see how this does in the semi-finals.

1st Place (Tie) - Roma Soul "Nyitva a ház" ("Open House") - 40 points

This song closed out the show with a solid performance. My concern about this track is that a lot of the performance centered on the acoustic instrumentation, which won't work on the Eurovision stage. I have a feeling this will slide on through to the A Dal final.

3rd Place (Tie) - Viki Singh "Rain" - 39 points

I am shocked at how well received this song was given how cliched and insipid the lyrics are. The stage performance was fine for a power ballad, but if this were to go all the way to Kyiv it would need a major rewrite. However, even if this had a more appropriate score (34 or 35 points), it probably would have still advanced to the semi-final.

3rd Place (Tie) - Spoon 21 "Deák" - 39 points

This was the most visually interesting performance of A Dal heat one and matched a lot of the imagery in the above video. The immediate concern is that the stage performance had eight people, so that will need to be tweaked were it to advance. We'll see if it gets past the semi-finals first.

5th Place - Dávid Henderson "White Shadows" - 37 points

This song definitely benefited from going first in the lineup. Though not as lyrically insipid as "Rain", it was called out for being too repetitive with "White Shadows."((I don't speak Hungarian, but Karoly knows what's up.))

Wildcard - Benji "Karcok" ("Scratches") - 36 points

Benji has a good voice, but this song doesn't really do anything with it. The song doesn't go anywhere and stops abruptly, which doesn't allow for it to stand out. Still, I think it was one of the better songs in the field and I'm glad it nabbed the wildcard spot."

Netherlands 2017: Who the Heck are O'G3NE? Wed, 04 Jan 2017 02:00:00 -0600 c0d091fa-797f-4ea3-9555-ba6283b5b505 "The Netherlands selected O'G3NE to go to Eurovision in May. What should we know about the sisters as we wait for their song?

Who the heck are O'G3NE?

The trio O'G3NE features twin sisters Amy Vol and Shelley Vol and their older sister Lisa Vol. The name comes from their mother's blood type and that they are three women genetically connected.((I was hoping it meant "original gangstas 3 Netherlands." Ah well.))

How did O'G3NE become a known quantity?

On the non-Eurovision side of things, the Vol sisters won the fifth series of The Voice of Holland in 2014. Their single "Magic," which they performed on the finale, reached #3 on the Dutch singles chart. They also did a cover of Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" because... obvs. That reached #86.

This past September, the trio released the album We Got This, which reached #1 on the Dutch charts.

Does O'G3NE have any previous Eurovision connections?

Oh boy, do they. The sisters represented the Netherlands in the 2007 Junior Eurovision Song Contest. If you saw the documentary Sounds Like Teen Spirit, this was that Contest though O'G3NE was not featured. Their song was called "Adem in, adem uit" ("Breathe In, Breathe Out"):

Unfortunately, Lisa, Amy & Shelley did not fare well at the Contest, finishing 11th out of 17 countries.

Where can I follow O'G3NE online?


Cyprus 2017: Who the Heck is Hovig? Tue, 03 Jan 2017 02:00:00 -0600 1e2e8bc3-cc09-42a9-8395-e8c998860f84 "Cyprus kicked off Eurovision selection season for 2017 by internally selecting Hovig. We don't know his song yet, so let's learn more about him.

Who the heck is Hovig?

Hovig Demirjian is a 28-year-old singer who will be representing Cyprus at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest.((This post is going live on Hovig's birthday. Happy birthday!))

How did Hovig become a known quantity?

Hovig first gained notoriety in 2009 when he competed on the second series of Greece's version of The X Factor. He made it to week 11 of the live shows, finishing in seventh place. He was knocked out of the competition by Ivi Adamou, who went on to represent Cyprus at Eurovision in 2012.

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Does Hovig have any previous Eurovision connections?

Along with Ivi Adamou, Eleftheria Eleftheriou (Greece 2012) also competed on the same season of The X Factor.

After competing in Greece, Hovig entered Cyprus' national selection for the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest. While his entry "Goodbye" received a middling score from the jury, it ranked second in the public vote.

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In 2015, Cyprus held the contest Eurovision Song Project to find its representative. Hovig was one of six finalists with the song "Stone in a River." Though he finished in fourth place, he follows Minus One as an also-ran internally selected to represent Cyprus.

Most recently, Hovig performed at the finale of Armenia's Depi Evratesil. His choice of a Bruno Mars track as one of his songs may be an indication of what style we might expect from Hovig in Kiev. A few of his YouTube videos include covers of "Uptown Funk." Acts that have a Bruno Mars vibe have been doing well at Eurovision the last few years.

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Where can I follow Hovig online?


This Week in Eurovision: Israel's Rising Star and Lithuania's Marathon Sun, 01 Jan 2017 01:00:00 -0600 3bafdc09-98f3-43b2-98b2-4ebd67b70880 "Happy 2017! Now that we can start saying "this year" when referring to Eurovision 2017, let's see what's happening this week.<!--more-->

Israel: HaKokhav HaBa

Israel will be kicking off its selection to find this year's Eurovision Song Contest representative for Kiev. HaKokhav HaBa (known internationally as Rising Star) will begin its fourth series Monday with the first of 10 heats, with the finale expected to air March 6.

The format has proved to lead to Eurovision success for Israel: the country's four-year qualifying slump ended in 2015 with series two winner Nadav Guedj landing in ninth place with "Golden Boy." Last year's champion Hovi Star also reached the Eurovision final with "Made of Stars," finishing in 14th place.

Lithuania: Eurovizijos 2017

Over in Lithuania, the marathon known as Eurovizijos 2017 will start Saturday. This year, 51 participants have been shortlisted to compete for a ticket to Kiev. Among the participants are Eurovision alumni Vilija Matačiūnaitė (2013) and Sasha Son (2009).

The format has been tweaked this year so that participants won't have to compete every single week. The first four episodes will feature a quarter of the entrants singing, with only a handful advancing to the second round. The marathon runs until March 11 and can be viewed on LRT's website or through the LRT app."

Depi Evratesil: And the Winner Is... Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:00:00 -0600 db476a84-f0ac-45af-8967-5f65ff70e4aa "Depi Evratesil ended Saturday with either Marta or Artsvik as Armenia's Eurovision Song Contest representative.<!--more-->

After more than 180 performances, Armenia's Depi Evratesil came to a close Saturday with Team Essaï's Artsvik winning both the jury and audience vote.

The jury, which counted for 50% of the final decision, favored Artsvik 31-19. Marta, who had won the audience vote decisively in both semi-finals, could not overcome the scoring deficit. The audience favored Artsvik 40-10.

Although we know who will be representing Armenia in Kiev for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, we still don't know what the song will be. Given Artsvik's selections throughout the series, I would expect a power ballad with a hint of R&B. If we can get something along the lines of her reimagining of Beyoncé's "Sweet Dreams," Artsvik could make Armenia a frontrunner at next year's competition.

So, did Depi Evratesil work as a format? I would say that it did. Although at times it came across as a discount version of The Voice, I appreciated that the aftermarket for the show was the end goal. Though I didn't agree with everyone who made it to the team round, I found most of the battles intriguing and a good way of narrowing down the field. The semi-finals were a bit of a surprise—I found it odd that it was just a final with six contestants—but we would have had a much different result if that were the case. Even though I was Team Artsvik fairly early on, I would have been just as happy if Marta had won the ticket to Ukraine.

Congratulations Artsvik!"

Depi Evratesil: The Final Four Sun, 18 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0600 0ccc32af-8f0d-4cd6-85b0-3c73e8909281 "Depi Evratesil tests the four finalists on Eurovision covers and stage presence. Are Marta, Syuzanna, Artsvik, and Egine up to the challenge?

Previously on Depi Evratesil: the six finalists took to the stage in the first live show of the series. After each singer performed, a professional jury and the Armenian public cast their votes for who they wanted to advance in the competition. Each singer performed a duet with their mentor, which was a lovely capstone to the competition. In a bit of a shocker, Marta won both the jury vote and the audience vote. Sadly, we lost Lucy and Team Aram along with Team Iveta and Vahe Aleksanyan.

This week has the four remaining contestants--Marta, Syuzanna Melqonyan, Artsvik, and Egine--performing two songs. The first round singing a song of their choosing and the second round features covers of Eurovision songs. Woo! Here's what happened on this week's Depi Evratesil:

Team Anush Arshakyan: Marta

Marta opens the show again this week. Standing center of a fog-filled stage, she sings an Armenian ballad as a pianist plays behind her. This might be my favorite Marta performance. There is more power in her voice, but she maintains the ethereal nature of the song. If she wins both the jury and audience vote again this week, I have to think she'll breeze on through to Kiev.

Her choice for the Eurovision round is Belgium's 2015 entry "Rhythm Inside" by Loic Nottet. Ooo, this is a brilliant choice for Marta's persona. She works with backup dancers who have blue bedazzled face masks to complement her blue lipstick. There are some issues with the lyrics and Marta gets a little marblemouthed at a few points, but overall the performance engages.

Team Inga Arshakyan: Syuzanna Melqonyan

Syuzanna starts her night with James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and a group of backing dancers. Syuzanna wears a suit and has a purple flower in her hair that matches her tie. I'm getting flashes of her Christina Aguilera battle from a couple weeks ago, which makes me uncomfortable. Syuzanna has a powerful voice, but working the stage is not her strength. Power ballad isn't my favorite Eurovision genre, but that is where Syuzanna shines. Head toward the shine!

For her Eurovision entry, Syuzanna selected "Sweet People" by Alyosha, which was Ukraine's 2010 entry. Alyosha sent in a video message wishing Syuzanna luck, which was a nice touch. This song has never been on my list of favorites, but Syuzanna does a fine job on the track. I don't think it's the best song choice, but every other song I can think of that might be a better fit may have a language she doesn't know((i.e. Serbian)) or comes from Azerbaijan which... yeah, not gonna happen.

Team Essaï Altounian: Artsvik

It's been a while since I last heard "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley, and it turns out to be an interesting choice for Artsvik. I get why it would be in her repertoire--it has that old school R&B vibe and her vocal tone is kind of in the same family as CeeLo Green's. The arrangement reminds me of how the house band on Dancing with the Stars would turn this song into a paso doble backing track if needed. This isn't Artsvik's strongest performance, but I think it's an improvement over last week.

For her Eurovision entry, Artsvik selected "A Million Voices" by Polina Gagarina, Russia's 2015 entrant. This is a bold choice, given that the song requires a lot of power and control to avoid become super schmaltzy. Of the remaining contestants, I think Artsvik is the only one who could attempt this song but even she has difficulty with it. She adds power a little too early as her vocal tone doesn't allow for the whispered delivery of the first verse. Still, a B+ performance of this song is quite good. I think a better choice might have been "Undo" from 2014.

Team Hayko: Egine

Egine gets the honor of doing this week's obligatory Beyonce cover, performing the 50 Shades of Grey version of "Crazy in Love." The vocals and pacing are a mess as a dancer trots around stage and does a bunch of leg stretches behind her. Since this is Egine, there's also an interminable dance break thrown in with a crew who may or may not be Jabbawockeez? If Egine were to win, what on earth would she do on the Eurovision stage that would give Armenia a chance of advancing out of the semi-finals?

Speaking of Eurovision, Egine selected Georgia's 2015 entry "Warrior" by Nina Sublatti. OXIMATED!!! This is the perfect entry for Egine, and I mean that sincerely. Her vocal tone should match the original, and the story of the song matches Egine's persona. Before the performance, Nina wishes Egine luck on the performance. Unfortunately, things do not go well. Again, Egine's pacing is off and the staging lacks engagement. There's a drummer standing behind her waiting as another drum set sits by itself across the stage. During the break after the second chorus, Egine heads over to do a drum duet which... why? She's no Sheila E, and if she wanted a drum solo Egine should have gone with "Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)."


The home audience has 15 minutes to vote on the four finalists. The head of the international jury, Swedish music producer Christer Bjorkman, was interviewed during the voting window and had the opportunity to read the jury point results. There was some confusion as to how the scores were read--his list had the scores ordered from least to most while the screen presentation listed the scores in the shows running order. Oops.

The international jury awarded 21 points to Marta, 30 points to Syuzanna, 35 points to Artsvik, and 24 points to Egine. Really? I agree that Marta had an off night, but I certainly disagree that Egine offered a better performance. Marta may also disagree, as she looks pissed when the televote results are revealed. This time the results are given in the running order.

Marta earned 40 points, giving her a total of 61. Syuzanna earned 24 points, giving her a total of 54. Artsvik earned 27 points, giving her a total of 62 points and guaranteeing a spot in the final. Yay! Egine earned... 19 points, giving her a total of 43. Marta is also going to the final!

I am really excited about Artsvik and Marta battling in next week's Depi Evratesil final. Both have offered interesting, engaging, and entertaining performances and both would be awesome representatives for Armenia."

Depi Evratesil: The Semi-Finals Mon, 12 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0600 725d8668-d9ff-4ca3-a92d-9d48596d3e23 "The Armenian public finally had its chance to weigh in on the six Depi Evratesil finalists. Who advanced in the Eurovision selection competition?

Previously on Depi Evratesil: each team was down to two contestants who faced off in one last duel to become finalists. After six battles, six finalists emerged to get one step closer to representing Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest in Kiev in May.

Surprisingly, Saturday's show was not the final but a semi-final. Each contestant gave a performance, complete with backup dancers and vocalists. After all six performed, televoting opened for the Armenia public to select their favorites. Once voting closed, each contestant got to perform a duet with their mentor before the results were revealed. Four of the six acts advanced to next week.

Here's how things shook out on Saturday:

Team Anush Arshakyan: Marta

Marta opened the show with a cover of Beyonce's "Naughty Girl" with two backup dancers in tow. This song is consistent with what Marta has presented the last few weeks: unconventional pop R&B tracks that include a lot of breathiness and vocal idiosyncracies. Although this song choice matches the singer, there's a little too much happening on stage and I fear Marta may be getting drowned out.

Team Essaï Altounian: Artsvik

Artsvik starts in the center of a fog-filled stage for her rendition of "Hurt" by Christina Aguilera. Although I love Artsvik, this may be my least favorite performance of hers in the competition. There wasn't anything technically wrong with how Artsvik performed the song, but I think the velvety roundness of Artsvik's voice doesn't match the vocal tone of Aguilera. There wasn't much to latch onto for this performance.

Team Hayko: Egine

With four backup dancers wearing bedazzled caps with "Egine" on them, Armenia's answer to Nicole Scherzinger took on "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody" by Fergie, with a few bars of LMFAO's "Shots" mixed in. As much as I can't stand Egine, she knows her lane and capitalizes on it. Much like with her first duel a couple weeks ago, Egine focuses more on the dancing and performing rather than the singing. She certainly commands stage presence, but that's not going to be enough to carry Armenia to a win in Kiev.

Team Aram mp3: Lucy

So, Lucy decided to draw on her experience of winning Hey Superstar((Armenian Idol)) and performed her own song in this round. Her video played on the backdrop, tinted in red.

I would not have recommended going this route. One, it's a little too self-promotional and two, the song's not that great. There isn't much range, the stage presentation was dull, and it seems like there wasn't much thought but into these choices.

Team Inga Arshakyan: Syuzanna Melqonyan

"Je Suis Malade" tapped into Syuzanna's Celine Dion side (even though it isn't a Celine track) and blew the competition away. This was easily the strongest vocal of the night. The performance remained subdued, which might be a slight turnoff compared to the competition, particularly the French delivery.

Team Iveta Mukuchyan: Vahe Aleksanyan

Vahe is dressed in all black for his cover of "The Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith. A ballet dancer prances around the stage as Vahe tries to sell a James Bond vibe. Overall, this was probably Vahe's best performance in the competition, but there were still lyrical and enunciation problems. Of course, with four people advancing, I could see him sneaking into fourth place.


Unless the professional jury (who I believe is separate from the mentors) evaluated the duets, we're ready to find out who advances to next week's show.

Lucy came in sixth and earned 20 points from the jury. Egine came in fifth with 25 jury points. Syuzanna finished fourth(!) with 31 points, followed by Artsvik(!!) with 32, and Vahe(!!!) with 33. That means Marta won the jury(!!!!) with 48 points(!!!!!). That is not at all how I expected scores to play out. Did the audience agree?

Apparently not. Vahe landed in sixth with 15 points, giving him a total of 48. Lucy earned 17 points, for a total of 37 which mathematically eliminates her from the top four. Egine earned 33 points from the home audience, giving her a total of 58. Syuzanna took third place and 36 points, giving her a total of 67 points. Things are not looking good for Vahe. Artsvik came in second with 39 points, giving her a total of 71 points. That means Marta won both the jury and audience vote. She earned 49 points, for a grand total of 97.

That means our final four are Marta, Artsvik, Syuzanna, and Egine. Given how the votes went down, will Marta represent Armenia on the Eurovision stage? Or will there be more surprises on next week's show?"

Depi Evratesil: Six Finalists Revealed Mon, 05 Dec 2016 00:00:00 -0600 c0091aea-7ae6-4860-a1fd-66f3fdc0bfaa "Depi Evratesil held its semi-final Saturday, with six duels to determine six finalists. There will be heartbreak.<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: The judges forced their teams to battle within to narrow down the field. After two rounds of duels, each judge has two members left to battle for a chance at representing Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest. The choices are not going to get any easier.

This week, the format is much the same as the previous rounds. The two contestants associated with a judge will each perform a song of their choosing. After both acts perform, the judges will offer feedback. The panel won't vote--it's not clear if that was always going to be the case or if the show ditched that mechanic because it had zero effect. Anyway, the mentor will make the final decision as to which act will advance to the final round.

Here's how the battles went down on this week's Depi Evratesil:

Team Iveta Mukuchyan: Hasmik Shiroyan vs. Vahe Aleksanyan

Hasmik Shiroyan opened the show with a mini-medley of Michael Jackson tracks, specifically "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Leave Me Alone." Hasmik was wearing a white outfit reminiscent of the gloved one, and her vocal tone bordered on impersonation. She didn't change the pronouns of the song, which I always find to be an interesting choice (though I'm not sure how much intention there was). The performance was fine, but nothing too special. It also felt short or rushed, but that might have been a function of how the two tracks combined.

Vahe Aleksanyan also did a mashup of sorts, combining Vahe's revised version of "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons, the guitar riff from "What Goes Around Comes Around" by Justin Timberlake, and the hook of Iveta's "LoveWave." TEACHER'S PET. I like the idea of combining these elements and I think it could work if the person singing it would bother to learn the correct lyrics.

I'm not sure who I would have picked in this scenario. Hasmik is more technically proficient, but Vahe's performance and song choice were much more interesting. Ultimately, Iveta hopped on the LoveWave and opted for Vahe. Sorry, Iveta 2.0.

Team Inga:  Syuzanna Melqonyan vs. Gevorg Harutyunyan

Syuzanna Melqonyan will offer this series' third rendition of "I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls. This song has become such a cliche on reality singing competitions and drag shows that it hardly registers when people give an okay performance. But when someone just sings the song and doesn't get tempted to fall into full-on histrionics when performing, magic happens. Syuzanna, with a turban and perhaps one too many accessories, is a GD sorceress when she sings. This was one of the best performances of the series.

Gevorg Harutyunyan has the Herculean task of following Syuzanna's performance. He does a jazz club version of "A Song for You" from the Ray Charles songbook. It's kinda baller that he includes a lit cigarette onstage as part of the performance, as if to suggest a professional singer would smoke during a career-changing performance. I thought he was fighting a losing battle, but I think I might like this performance more than Syuzanna's. Gevorg has a charisma about him that I think would stand out on the Eurovision stage.

I do not envy Inga having to make this choice. She had the most balanced and perhaps strongest team in this contest, and this battle highlights that situation. Inga decides to move forward with Syuzanna. Although either option would have been a good choice, my gut tells me Gevorg should have moved forward. I hope this isn't the last we see of him in Armenia's Eurovision circles.

Team Hayko: Egine vs. Anna Danielyan

Egine gets to go first and she performs "Sexy Silk" by Jessie J. I don't even know how to evaluate this at this point. I don't like Egine's style, she's more about performance than technique, and there's nothing about her that says "Armenia will win the Eurovision Song Contest." Good on Jessie J for getting another royalty check, I guess.

Anna Danielyan is our only hope to stop Egine. The opening drumbeat from Adele's "Rumour Has It" starts to play and I get excited. SLAY! Or... stand there like this is a choir performance? Oh, girl. The challenge Anna has faced throughout the competition has been making a strong impact early. Instead, she eases into this song and slow builds to the bridge, which is not how this song works or how to follow the performance that preceded her.

As expected, Egine got the green light. This is heartbreaking, but in terms of what the end goal is of this competition this is the right choice. Boo.

Team Essaï Altounian: Opera Viva vs. Artsvik

Opera Viva finally goes toward pop music by covering "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban. The only way to describe this performance is "uncomfortable." I would assume they have access to stylists, but everyone opted to look as frumpy as possible, with popped collars and totally mismatched outfits. This particular arrangement of the track also has too many layers, with each voice trying to be heard above the others, creating a convoluted soundscape. I've been lukewarm about Opera Viva's Eurovision possibilities, and this seems like the inevitable outcome if they were to win this competition.

Artsvik taps into the Destiny's Child catalog with "Stand Up for Love." I've been #TeamArtsvik since her second round performance, but she needs to win this competition. Her vocal style and R&B point of view would be an amazing addition to the Eurovision stage. I think the judges may agree, as they give her a standing ovation following her flawless performance.

I wish I could understand the feedback the judges were giving to the contestants, particularly since this battle was the prize fight of this episode. No heartbreak here: Artsvik will represent Team Essai next week.

Team Aram mp3: Lilit Harutyunyan vs. Lucy

Lilit Harutyunyan performs the Prince arrangement of "Nothing Compares 2U." I didn't care for Lilit when she first started on this show, but I think she may be the most improved contestant. She's mostly overcome the throat voice tic that bugged me early on and her pacing through this performance has a funkiness to it that I adore. The performance is a slow build, which could be a problem similar to what Anna faced earlier.

Lucy offers her interpretation of "Say Something" by A Great Big World. I've never been a fan of this song, but Lucy's interpretation is winning me over. Along with not whining the notes (as in the original), there is an animation of a contemporary dance routine playing behind her. If this were a performance on the Eurovision stage, I could imagine it being well received.

Although I think I would be happy with either of these contestants advancing, Aram selects Lucy. After that performance, I agree with the choice.

Team Anush Arshakyan: Marta vs. Alexander Plato

Marta sings a ballad that I believe is in Armenian. There are some vocal gymnastics that she executes well, but the song itself is not all that memorable. I find her song choices interesting in that they are unconventional, though there is a lack of strategy from a competition standpoint.

Alexander Plato does a Satan-inspired number? Much like Egine and Opera Viva, I don't know how to evaluate this schtick. He's not a joke act per se, but I am unable to take him seriously. The performance ends with Aram mp3 making a cross with a couple of pens, so there's that?

Anush puts an end to the joke and selects Marta to move on in the competition.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: I think it's the final, y'all! The final six are:

  • Vahe Aleksanyan

  • Syuzanna Melqonyan

  • Egine

  • Artsvik

  • Lucy

  • Marta


Depi Evratesil: Round 3 Part 2 Mon, 28 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0600 770f537d-9593-4451-987a-864248a0e6ab "Depi Evratesil has its second half of the 2-to-1 battle rounds. Were there any surprises on who advanced to the semi-final battles?<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: The six teams began battling for Eurovision stardom. Two members of each team faced off in front of the professional jury for the chance to move on to the next stage of competition. Twelve acts performed, but only six survived.

This week, the other half of the field will engage in their own battles. The six winners this week will meet the surviving teammates from last week for one more team battle.

Here's how things shook out in the second battle round of Depi Evratesil:

Team Aram mp3: Lilit Harutyunyan vs. Jujo

Lilit Harutyunyan has not been one of my favorites in this competition, but the choice to perform "Price Tag" by Jessie J may have won me over. Her vocal tone in her previous performances is not pleasant to my ears, but for some reason it works for this track. Her styling is a bit of a mixed bag: I love her hair in an updo, but the outfit she wore for the performance was not all that flattering. If the vocal tone issues are a work in progress, my next suggestion would be to work on breath control. Lilit is certainly in contention for most improved.

Jujo countered with the song "River" by Bishop Briggs. I had not heard the song prior to this performance, and if I never heard it again I would be happy. Aside from simple, repetitive lyrics, the pounding of the track is an overproduced mess. Ultimately, this is not a singer's song, but Jujo was not offering much in terms of performance. This is a shame, since Jujo did not do a bad job. This is a case of not having enough material to work with.

The judges voted and for Lilit unanimously. Sorry, Jujo.

Team Inga Arshakyan: Narine Jinanyan vs. Syuzanna Melqonyan

Narine Jinanyan opened the battle with Christina Aguilera's "Impossible." The staging has Narine standing center stage as a chanteuse in a fancy gown. Despite the attempted sultriness and costume, Narine does a great job of not over-singing the song. Ironically, she doesn't Aguilera all over the track, which always wins points with me.

Syuzanna Melqonyan fights back with her own Aguilera cover: "Ain't No Other Man." The performance begins with some over-stylized camerawork before we see Syuzanna serving Paula Abdul Forever Your Girl realness. Aside from Aguilera-ing at every possible moment, there seems to be no reaction from the audience. As a viewer, the whole performance feels uncomfortable, as if Syuzanna is in a vacuum.

The panel casts their votes and gives their critiques. The votes are revealed and it is unanimous... for Syuzanna? Huh. I am genuinely surprised and somewhat disappointed.

Team Hayko: Eva Kans vs. Egine

Eva Kans enters the stage to the opening notes of "I'm Outta Love" by Anastasia. Like Lilit, I have real problems with Eva's vocal tone, but this is a song choice that should be a perfect match. Unfortunately, the performance can't even get on the rails before it falls off. Eva does not kick off right, either missing the first few notes or starting ahead of the music, but she spends about 2/3 of the song trying to get back on track. She doesn't succeed.

Egine has a low bar to clear at this point. She does a mashup of Kelly Price's "Tired" and the hook of "Burnin' Up" by Jessie J. This performance is all about performance, with multiple dance breaks and what is probably the minimal requirement of vocal effort. Girlfriend is trying to channel Nicole Scherzinger, which is probably why I can't stand her.

Voting happens, and it is not unanimous. I believe it was Aram mp3 who voted for Eva((I wasn't expecting any for her, so I wasn't paying 100% attention)), but everyone else goes for Egine. Based on how performance seems to count for more than vocals at this stage, I'm not sure there was anything Eva could have done even if she hadn't stumbled.

Team Anush Arshakyan: Anna Sedrakyan vs. Alexander Plato

Anna Sedrakyan returns to the stage with her guitar and a "Seven Nation Army" by White Stripes. I don't understand why this song has been everywhere in 2016, but I guess this choice shouldn't surprise me. As expected, Anna doesn't do much with this song, which is not an effective strategy. The instrumentation has a very basic chord structure, so any cover is going to need some other element--playing along on your guitar is not enough. The Tori Amos arrangement of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" might have been a better choice for Anna.

Alexander Plato is back to do his thing. So far he is three for three in having his entries be listed on my spreadsheet as "???" so... congrats? Wikipedia tells me the song is called "Ke Qeler"/"Lily", and it seems to be a crowd pleaser. Although his style is a departure from what Armenia has sent to Eurovision in the last few years, I could see Alexander Plato tapping into the public consciousness in a way that made Poland so successful this year. In other words, don't underestimate him in this competition.

The panel gives Alexander Plato all the votes, so he moves on to the next round. That's going to be an interesting battle.

Team Essaï Altounian: Opera Viva vs. Marissa

Opera Viva perform a song called "Maria" which places the guys in the lead and the women as backing singers. It should be noted that this group hasn't done anything that is pop friendly yet. If this group were to win this series, I'm worried Armenia could get caught up in the technical proficiency of singing, resulting in an entry that doesn't do well at Eurovision. Il Volo has a pop sensibility (plus the guys are dreamy) which this group has yet to demonstrate. The Eurovision Song Contest is not just a singing competition, so we need to see something more from Opera Viva.

Marissa was the wild card who got to this stage because there was still a vacancy on Team Essai. And she's going up against the opera kids. In other words, she has to push a boulder up a muddy hillside to even stand a chance. She sings "Stop" by Sam Brown and... it's one of the better performances of the night. There are a couple of bum notes here and there, but Marissa is making the most of her second chance.

After critiques, the votes from the jury roll in and... whoa. The split is 3-2 in favor of Opera Viva. Essai has to make a decision and he hems and haws. Could we have a major upset? We don't, as Essai goes with Opera Viva. But good on Marissa for turning it out!

Team Iveta Mukuchyan: Sona Dunoyan vs. Vahe Aleksanyan

Sona Dunoyan is in a schoolgirl dress combo to sing "Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande. What I like about this performance is you can tell Sona is having fun and is comfortable on stage, which you don't always see happening simultaneously on shows like this. I don't think the vibe of this song is the best match for Sona's personality, but that's a minor nitpick for an otherwise good performance.

Vahe Aleksanyan closes out the show with "My Prayer" by Eric Benet. This performance reminds me of the guys in high school who are part of singing groups or the school chorus to impress girls. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes me wonder what his long-term prospects are with this should he win the series. There's nothing spectacular about this performance, but the song is a better match with his personality than his opponent's song.

The judges vote and the split is 4-1 in favor of Vahe. I'm not surprised, but a little disappointed. The audience was chanting for Sona during the voting, so there may be more disappotment in the studio.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: The final 12 duke it out in one more round of battles:

  • Team Aram mp3: Lucy vs. Lilit Harutyunyan
  • Team Inga:  Gevorg Harutyunyan vs. Syuzanna Melqonyan
  • Team Hayko: Anna Danielyan vs. Egine
  • Team Anush: Marta Kirakosyan vs. Alexander Plato
  • Team Essai: Artsvik vs. Opera Viva
  • Team Iveta: Hasmik Shiroyan vs. Vahe Aleksanyan

Whoa, next week's going to be kinda nuts. Sweet!"

Depi Evratesil: Let the Round 3 Battles Begin! Sun, 20 Nov 2016 01:00:00 -0600 fca070c8-fabd-4e97-b162-63ff55d6659c "Depi Evratesil moves on to Battle Rounds as each judge cuts one act from each of their squads.<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: 80 became 37 became 24 as the six judges formed teams of four acts each. Now, each act will battle within their own team to be the Finalist and have a chance at representing Armenia at the Eurovision Song Contest. We have stakes, y'all!

Here's how the Battle phase works. Each judge will select two of their own acts to sing additional songs. After the performances, the other judges will vote for the act they prefer. However, the mentor will have the final say in who stays and who goes home. The winners of each judge's duels will face off in another duel, with the winner becoming that mentor's finalist. In other words, we're getting rid of six people each week for the next three weeks. Woot!

Here's how things shook out in the first battle round of Depi Evratesil:

Team Aram mp3: Saro Gevorgyan vs. Lucy

Saro Gevorgyan made some bold song choices to get to this point, covering "Bang Bang" and "I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." He opened this week's show with "Cheating" by John Newman. Although this choice is consistent with the songs he performed previously, I like that this song fits within Saro's vocal range and ability. The enunciation was a little slurry, but otherwise this was an okay performance. The show has also upped the level of stage effects, so that's helping create a more dynamic performance.

Lucy provided the mandatory Eurovision performance, covering "Euphoria" by Loreen. This situation is where degree of difficulty needs to be considered. "Euphoria" is a difficult song, with unusual pacing, phrasing, and the need to pull off some challenging vocal tricks. Lucy gets overwhelmed by the song by the end, but not to the degree Saro was overwhelmed by his. In other words, Saro gave a better performance, but Lucy demonstrated more technical prowess.

The judges voted and agreed that Lucy won the battle, voting for her unanimously. Aram mp3 didn't challenge the panel and selected Lucy to move on in the competition.

Team Inga Arshakyan: Karina Harutyunyan vs. Gevorg Harutyunyan

Karina Harutyunyan brought Aretha Franklin to the battle, covering "Think." Her energy and approach to the song reminds me of how Laura Tesoro presented "What's the Pressure" onstage in Stockholm back in May. Her vocal power doesn't match the Queen of Soul's, but Karina still gave a solid performance.

I am not familiar with the ballad Gevorg Harutyunyan presented, but he offered a fully conceived performance. The performance reminded me of Azerbaijan's 2015 entry, and I found myself wondering if that's the direction Armenia would try to go if Gevorg won this thing.((Not that Armenia would want to copy Azerbaijan--not trying to open a can of worms here. Stop looking at me.))

The panel split on their vote for this battle, with Anush voting for Karina while everyone else voted for Gevorg. Inga struggled with her choice, but decided to go with the will of the judges. I can't disagree with that choice, especially because Team Inga is probably the most balanced of the six teams. Next week won't be any easier.

Team Hayko: Amalya Margaryan vs. Anna Danielyan

Amalya Margaryan reached for the stars by choosing "Jason's Song (Gave it Away)" by Ariana Grande. This song was a much better choice than Amalya's round two pick (Queen's "The Show Must Go On") in terms of pop identity, but she does not have the vocal range required to sing this song. The vocal power is there, but a lot of the time it came out as yelling rather than anything melodic. She also has a tendency to sing with her eyes closed, which will not work when trying to connect with televoters on the Eurovision stage.

Anna Danielyan is the one person on Team Hayko I am rooting for, and her performance of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" is the reason why. Just about everyone who performed on this week's episode adopted the attitude of putting it all on stage, even when songs should be restrained or simply sung. Anna, however, sang the song coolly and confidently. This was my favorite performance of the night and it gave me Kelly Clarkson vibes.

When it came to voting, Essai gave his vote to Amalya((Really?)) but everyone else voted for Anna. Hayko made the right choice and sent Anna to the next round. Woo!

Team Anush Arshakyan: Marta Kirakosyan vs. Stepan Hovhannisyan

Marta Kirakosyan made one of the most interesting song choices this entire series: "Back in the Day" by Erykah Badu. First, I wasn't expecting Erykah Badu to pop up on an Armenian singing competition, so that's fun. Also, this track is incredibly subtle, which runs counter to the bombastic nature of Eurovision. Marta delivers a solid performance, and you can tell that R&B is totally in her wheelhouse. The problem here is that the song is such a slow jam, it's not making much of an impression. If viewers were voting at this stage, Marta would be in big trouble, even though every part of this performance works.

Stepan Hovhannisyan benefited by having a mentor guide him to "Say Something" by A Great Big World. The problem I had with his earlier performances was his inability to adjust his intensity. Surely this song that starts as a lullaby would force Stepan to turn things down, right? Wrong: he belts this as much as his previous entries. Because of this, the build of intensity that exists in the song can't happen.

Iveta gives Stepan her support, but the other judges give the edge to Marta. Anush keeps Marta, but I think this was a case where Stepan lost rather than Marta won.

Team Essaï Altounian: Only Girls vs. Artsvik

Only Girls are back to sing another a capella ballad, presumably in Armenian.((Oh hai, language barrier!)) The performance is fine, but this choice may be a cause for concern about what they would bring to the Eurovision stage if they were to win Depi Evratesil. Although they initially auditioned with "Help," I think they lack confidence performing in English. The last fully non-English track to win Eurovision was "Molitva" back in 2007, so I'm guessing there isn't a lot of enthusiasm about submitting a song that isn't at least partially English. A capella also doesn't have a great track record at the Contest, so Only Girls may have painted themselves in a corner.

Artsvik added to the show's R&B playlist with "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys. If she wasn't already a favorite to win this competition after her performance in the last round, Artsvik should be in that position now. There's almost nothing to say about the performance because Artsvik delivered the song effortlessly.

The judges were saying "Bravo" after Artsvik's song ended, tipping their hand as to how they were going to vote. Sure enough, the decision was unanimous and Artsvik will move on in the competition.

Team Iveta Mukuchyan: Christina Mangasaryan vs. Hasmik Shiroyan

Christina Mangasaryan chose "I Put a Spell on You" by Nina Simone. This choice is interesting because, while technically simple, the song lives and dies on performance. Given her previous performances--"Euphoria" and "Try"--I like that Christina chose something requiring more of a performance. She doesn't look 100% comfortable, but overall I think this works.

Iveta 2.0 Hasmik Shiroyan closed out the show with "Sweet Lovin'" by Sigala. Speaking of songs that are more about performance than technical ability, this song is a perfect example. I'm starting to wonder if Hasmik may be more style over substance as there isn't much to latch onto with this performance. She could finish in the top 10 at Eurovision with a middling song, but I'm not confident Hasmik could win with what she has shown us so far.

With two performances that didn't highlight technical ability, the panel ended up split with two votes for Christina and three votes for Hasmik. Iveta seemed to genuinely struggle with this choice, as would I, but she decided to stick with the majority.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: The Battle Round continues! Here's who's on deck:

  • Team Aram mp3: Jujo vs. Lilit Harutyunyan

  • Team Inga: Syuzanna Melqonyan vs. Narine Jinanyan

  • Team Hayko: Egine vs. Eva Kans

  • Team Anush: Alexander Plato vs. Anna Sedrakyan

  • Team Essai: Opera Viva vs. Marissa

  • Team Iveta: Vahe Aleksanyan vs. Sona Dunoyan


Depi Evratesil: Judges Selection Ends with 6 Full Rosters Sun, 13 Nov 2016 01:00:00 -0600 1e68a541-1c15-4acb-910f-56ba96197ae3 "Depi Evratesil ended its second phase with all six judges filling out their rosters.<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: 10 hopefuls went through their second audition to become Armenia's Eurovision act. Anush and Aram mp3 completed their teams while Iveta was the only other judge to recruit a finalist. In the end, only five singers moved on to the next round.

This week, the last nine singers performed for the judges. With nine acts and eight slots to fill, the odds look good for this week's hopefuls. Here's what happened on Depi Evratesil:

Only Girls opened this week's episode with a song that might be an Armenian power ballad?((Sorry, this is where the language barrier is not helpful.)) The women were dressed in military fatigues and their harmonies were in pretty good shape. The lead singer sounded a little shaky in parts, but as a whole the quintet carried more confidence than their first go-round. Essaï scooped them up, which surprised me given that he already has a group on his team.

Sona Dunoyan, who auditioned with Meghan Trainor's "No," dipped into the Top 40 pool again with Justin Bieber's "Sorry." Sona sounded a little too warble-y in parts and seemed to be inside her own head for a lot of the performance. However, the notes were there and many of the flaws in the performance are things a coach should be able to work through. Iveta will hopefully be that coach.

Gevorg Harutyunyan performed James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" with a mashup of an Italian song.((Or a verse in Italian rather than English? #LanguageBarrier)) Given some of the song choices that have ben presented on this series, this isn't necessarily a bad one. Gevorg gets a little too caught up in the performance, ending with a whole bunch of twirling which... maybe save that for a later stage of competition? Again, working with a coach should fix some of these problems, and Inga will be in charge of that.

Aksel Daveyan opted to do "Feelin' Good" a la Michael Bublé. When will singing competition contestants learn that this song is a trap? The power of the song comes from the band, not the lyrics or the singer. The charisma of the singer accentuates the band, but will always be secondary to the music. As a result, even a fantastic performance of this does not make this a singer's song. Unfortunately, this was not a fantastic performance, as Aksel seemed to get lost a couple times and just stood on stage during an interlude. The judges listened politely, but no one buzzed in.

Karine Harutyunyan, who killed it with her rendition of "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston, came back for seconds with "Listen" by Beyoncé. Even though three of the judges already had full rosters by this point, it was still a battle to buzz in first when the countdown timer started. Inga won the battle. Although Karine can sing her face off, I think she needs to work on her stage presence. I would hate for Armenia to send an act to Eurovision that is a female singer standing center stage singing a ballad—that's way too boring.

Zemfira Fridon made my favorite song choice of the night: "The Best" by Tina Turner. Perhaps there is something about the Armenian accent that lends itself to emulating Tina Turner, but I've been waiting for someone to do a song of hers since week two. Although the voice matched well, Zemfira's performance came across as frantic and "opening act" rather than the main attraction. I loved it, but I can understand why none of the judges snatched her for their team.

Eva Kans opted for "We Are the World" which... what? Along with a baffling song choice, her performance slurred all over the place and just. kept. going. This was one of the most unpleasant things to listen to, so it's no surprise that Hayko pulled Eva into his team. UGH.

Amalya Margaryan is another example of this. She covered Queen's "The Show Must Go On"—which went on, and on, AND ON. When it wasn't pitchy, the song came across as yelling rather than singing. Spoiler for the rest of this process: I will actively root against 75% of Team Hayko.

Narine Jinanyan closed the show with "Love on Top" by Beyoncé. I adore the boldness of this choice. The song is difficult enough to sing with awkward and inconsistent phrasing, but then you add in the multiple key changes at the end and you get the equivalent of a 5k mud run obstacle course. Inga and Essaï are the only judges at this point with a vested interest in this song, but all of the judges seemed to be keeping a checklist of every trap Narine navigated past. Essaï buzzed Inga's buzzer for her, so Team Inga is set.

Team Iveta Mukuchyan

  • Christina Mangasaryan
  • Vahe Aleksanyan
  • Hasmik Shiroyan
  • Sona Dunoyan

Team Aram mp3

  • Lucy
  • Saro Gevorgyan
  • Jujo
  • Lilit Harutyunyan

Team Anush Arshakyan

  • Stepan Hovhannisyan
  • Marta Kirakosyan
  • Alexander Plato
  • Anna Sedrakyan

Team Hayko

  • Egine
  • Anna Danielyan
  • Eva Kans
  • Amalya Margaryan

Team Inga Arshakyan

  • Syuzanna Melqonyan
  • Gevorg Harutyunyan
  • Karine Harutyunyan
  • Narine Jinanyan

Team Essaï Altounian

  • Opera Viva
  • Artsvik
  • Only Girls

Since Essaï only had three on his roster, he got to choose someone from the pool of 14 contestants who did not get buzzed through in this round. After a recap of all those performances, Essaï recruited Marissa, who sang "Sweet People" a few weeks back.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: We enter phase three of the competition! 24 contestants remain... who will represent Armenia at Eurovision?"

Depi Evratesil: Judges' Selections Week 3 Sun, 06 Nov 2016 00:00:00 -0500 4315174f-ec16-422b-9a79-d42075fe0a81 "Depi Evratesil enters the second half of Judges' Selections, with two teams filling their rosters.<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: The judges got a little pickier as their teams start to fill up. Vahe Aleksanyan joined Team Iveta while Jujo hopped on with Team Aram. Anush finally got in the game with her first recruit Stepan Hovhannisyan. In the biggest snag of the episode, Artsvik joined the ranks of Team Essai. Team Hayko closed the show by picking up Anna Danielyan.

With 19 acts to go and 13 roster slots remaining, here's how things shook out in week three of round two of Depi Evratesil:

Team Aram mp3

Aram mp3 completed his roster this week, picking up Lilit Harutyunyan. She covered John Legend's "All of Me" in a way that the studio audience loved, but I found to be profoundly irritating. Lilit has a rounded throat voice, similar to Tina Turner or Billie Holiday. Although it shouldn't prevent her from singing this song, her arrangement choices hit every singing competition cliche. The slowed down tempo of her delivery did not match the speed of the piano, every phrase slurred together, and the performance drowned in affectations. Lilit can sing, don't get me wrong, but this was a poor song choice.

Team Anush Arshakyan

Anush came to play this week, picking up three contestants and filling up her roster. The first to join the team was Marta Kirakosyan, who performed "How Deep is Your Love" by Calvin Harris. The risk that accompanies a song that is primarily a dance track is that the lyrics will probably lack complexity, especially when converted into a ballad. Marta compensated by giving a strong stage performance, avoiding hiding behind the mic stand and working the platform. I think she'll be a smart choice for Anush, but will require guidance in song choices.

Odd man out Alexander Plato returned with another off-kilter yet engaging performance. Much like his audition, his delivery was unconventional for a competition like this, which the judges seem to respond to. This was the only audition this week where there was a race to see who could buzz in first.

Guitarist Anna Sedrakyan claimed the last spot on Team Anush, covering "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak. Truth be told, I'm a little surprised this performance led to a roster spot. Although she plays an instrument and sings fine, she chose to truncate the sweet note of "Oh Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii want to fall in love," which is the hook of the song. Anna's style reminds me of Jewel's first album, which might not be the most ringing of endorsements. Maybe Anush will be able to get her to pop out in her next performance.

Team Iveta Mukuchyan

The third person to join Iveta's team was Hasmik Shiroyan. Hasmik delivered a solid pop performance to close out the show, and I'm not at all surprised Iveta picked her. Both women seem to have similar aesthetics both in music and fashion. This could be a potential obstacle for Hasmik, since it might not be strategic to send Iveta 2.0 to Eurovision as Iveta 1.0's followup. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing this collaboration in the next round.

Team Essaï Altounian

No one joined Opera Viva or Artsvik this week. Two slots remain on Team Essai.

Team Hayko

Egine and Anna Danielyan will have to wait until next week for teammates.

Team Inga Arshakyan

Team Inga is still just Syuzanna Melqonyan.

No Buzzes

Mariam Yevriyan kicked off the show covering "Beggin'" by Madcon. I'm not overly familiar with Madcon's catalog((I'll need to rectify that)), but I can tell that this song may be bigger than Mariam's ability. She tries her best, but the mismatch is too much to overcome.

Diana Adamyan, who auditioned with a Jessie J track, went back to that well by attempting "Bang Bang." Oh, honey. As I said a couple weeks ago, this song's deceptively difficult. Diana never finds the musicality of the song, wavering between shouting and singing likes she's singing in her bedroom. Sorry, darlin'.

Qristina Avetisyan had one of my favorite auditions with an ethereal cover of "Take Me to Church." This time, she offered an overly affected rendition of "Hit the Road Jack" by Ray Charles. The hat, the bowtie, the smooooooth jazz tempo selections: it all combines for a performance that felt inauthentic and disappointing. Ah well.

Diana Dikovski continued the unexpected tour of the Ray Charles catalog with a cover of "Georgia on My Mind." Keep in mind, she had to do three songs in her initial audition to get to this stage, so don't get your hopes up. I think Diana would be a blast at karaoke, but this performance was way too lounge-y and over the top.

Arthur Abgar offered a pleasant, but unremarkable, performance of "Te Quiero, Te Quiero." Unfortunately, no judge said "te quiero."

Next week on Depi Evratesil: the nine remaining contestants compete for eight slots. That's good odds, unless they bring back previous contestants who missed the cut..."

Depi Evratesil: Judges Choose Week 2 Sat, 29 Oct 2016 17:30:00 -0500 df89a88b-9611-4e36-87ca-2770e952a939 "Depi Evratesil continued its judges' team draft as nine of 28 remaining contestants performed. Have we seen Armenia's future Eurovision representative on stage?<!--more-->

Previously on Depi Evratesil: we finally get some stakes to this competition as the first batch of finalists perform for a spot on a team with one of the six judges. Aram mp3 picked up Lucy and Sero Gevorgyan, filling up half of his squad. Inga Arshakyan picked up potential frontrunner Syuzanna Melqonyan while Essai Altounian snagged Opera Viva. Iveta Mukuchyan recruited Christina Mangasaryan as Hayko took a risk with Egine. Anush Arshakyan is still looking for her first team member.

Here's how things shook out in week two of round two of Depi Evratesil:

Team Iveta Mukuchyan

The first audition of the episode came from Vahe Aleksanyan, who auditioned in the first round with Beyonce's "Listen" and "Rise Like a Phoenix" by Conchita Wurst. Vahe went back to the Eurovision well, opting for "Tonight Again" by Australia's Guy Sebastian. Of the three songs he's done so far, this one seemed to match Vahe's vibe the best. However, unless the song has gone through a significant rewrite I wasn't aware of, a lot of the words were wrong. He didn't let it phase him, so Vahe will move on to the next round with Iveta.

Team Aram mp3

Jujo got all the judges' approval in her "We Found Love" audition. As the camera came into focus for this round, we see her wearing a full native American headdress and costume for her rendition of "Virtual Insanity" by Jamiroquai. In case you missed my tweet about it as it happened: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE." Why does this happen every year at Eurovision? Besides being the worst in cultural appropriation, it doesn't even make sense for this song. I can't even evaluate the singing because I was too distracted by my discomfort. Aram didn't seem bothered and gave Jujo the third spot on his roster.

Team Anush Arshakyan

Anush finally picked up a contestant this week! Stepan Hovhannisyan, who auditioned with "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake, returned with "Mamma Knows Best" by Jessie J. Stepan doesn't have the strongest voice, but he can sing. Unfortunately, he's picking songs that are...baffling? I'm hoping Anush can find a song that matches Stepan's demeanor so his performances don't continue on this "eighth grade science teacher at the spring fling purposely embarrassing his students" trajectory. Please?

Team Essaï Altounian

Hands down, the best performance of the night (and possibly the series so far) goes to Artsvik. After a fantastic cover of Mary J. Blige in her audition, Artsvik rearranged Beyonce's "Sweet Dreams" into a piano ballad. Let's be real, "Sweet Dreams" is not one of Beyonce's better songs((Come at me, Bee Hive!)), but this rendition was both haunting and beautifully executed. All of the judges tried to buzz in to snag her, but Essai won the battle. His team looks stacked already.

Team Hayko

Closing out this week's show was Anna Danielyan. She auditioned with Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" and continued her guided tour of everyone's feelings with "Dancing on My Own" by Robyn. Also rearranged as a straight-up ballad, Anna offered a slow build of emotion as she worked through the song. She starts her performances subdued, but there's an emergence that happens throughout the song that's both pleasant to watch and listen to. The judges seemed equally hypnotized, with Hayko buzzing in with three seconds left on the clock. Anna could be a strong contender, but she'll need to learn to make a stronger impression earlier in her performances.

Team Inga Arshakyan

No one joined Syuzanna Melqonyan on Inga's roster this time around.

No Buzzes

Payla Gevorgyan continued in her Amy Winehouse et al. lane with a cover of "Too Close" by Alex Clare. Payla sang the song fine and I think her musical taste could be an interesting choice for Eurovision. However, she doesn't know what to do on stage during the breaks and rests, so this performance came across as awkward and a little boring.

Marissa had unanimous support after her audition in round one, but no one seemed all that enthusiastic about her cover of Alyosha's "Sweet People." Judging by her song choices, Marissa seems to like songs where the singer wants to be heard. She sings well, but I would be surprised if that is the type of song Armenia would want to send to Eurovision so soon after their 2015 entry.

Albert Ghazaryan ran into some bad luck with his running order draw. He performed "Pero te Extrano" by Andrea Bocelli, which seems consistent with Albert's tastes given his initial audition. In his critique, Essai said he enjoys Albert's classical voice, but with Opera Viva already on his team he couldn't make himself Team Classical. Had Albert performed before Opera Viva, he might have had a shot of moving on. Ah well.

Armenuhi Gasparyan offered another throwback with a cover of "Feelin' Good." Aside from this song being a well-documented poison for reality show contestants, this rendition was not particularly good. By the end, Armenuhi was doing a series of nonsense runs, which is not going to be something a Eurovision contestant will be expected to do in their performance.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: Round two auditions continue as 19 acts compete for 13 remaining slots."

Throwback Thursday: Anti-Crisis Girl Svetlana Loboda Asks Russia to "Be My Valentine" Thu, 27 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 687b2063-4bea-4ef5-8012-79d80ea7d8d6 "Ukraine went a little too deep into Eurovision-ness with the their 2009 entry "Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)" by Svetlana Loboda.


Song Title: "Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl!)"
Artist: Svetlana Loboda
Semi-Final: 6th place in the second semi-final
Grand Final: 12th out of 24 countries
Last year's entry: "Shady Lady" by Ani Lorak (2nd place)

After back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Eurovision Song Contest, it makes sense that Ukraine would double down on what had been working for them. The previous two entries featured aggressive pop tracks performed by strong female characters. Also, the 2009 Contest was taking place in Moscow, which means the rivalry between Ukraine and Russia would be reaching a new high. Enter Svetlana Loboda's song "Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)" and the Hell Machine:

This may be one of the most over-the-top Eurovision performances of the last ten years. The Hell Machine--the name for the gears and ladders setpiece--is one of the most elaborate setpieces even before you add in pyrotechnics. Metallic backup singers on stilts join Svetlana Loboda and her army of centurion dancers. Also, a drum kit? The camera work is frantic, partly because of direction to add even more energy to the performance, but also because it is unclear to know what element to focus on.

Even with these drawbacks, the performance is enjoyable. The song isn't strong lyrically, but Svetlana Loboda commits 100%. Supposedly the song is about bringing to light issues of domestic violence, but I'm not sure how that is conveyed here.


"Be My Valentine" is mostly a footnote in Ukraine's Eurovision history. It was middle of the pack in both the semi-final and final, so there's no reason for it to shine among all of Ukraine's top ten finishes. Also, the song drew the slot in the Grand Final running order immediately behind Norway's juggernaut "Fairytale", which probably didn't help with scores.

I think what Ukraine learned from this experience is that, while staging is important, too many elements can be as much of a problem as too few. Ukraine continues to stage their entries with a high degree of art direction, but the delegation has found elegance in one or two elements rather than Hell Machines."

Depi Evratesil gets interesting as it enters second phase Sun, 23 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 ba71b1b3-c648-4ff3-9d08-e8f31cb0233f "Armenia's selection process Depi Evratesil entered the second phase of competition Saturday. Nine of 37 contestants performed for a chance to move one step closer to Eurovision.<!--more-->

After three weeks of audition episodes, Depi Evratesil moved on to the next phase of the competition on Saturday's episode. Over the next few weeks, the 37 contestants who passed the audition round will each sing again for a chance to get drafted onto a team headed by one of the six judges.

You may be saying to yourself "doesn't that make this The Voice?" Well, yes and no. Each contestant gets to sing a full version of a song of their choosing. A judge cannot buzz in to draft a singer until the last ten seconds of the performance, which I like for a couple reasons. One, there isn't a sense of panic creeping into a performance if judges haven't buzzed in after the first power note. Two, it allows for a full critique of a performance rather than a snippet.

As for the buzzing in, it is a first come, first serve scenario. Unlike The Voice, where the contestant gets to choose their coach if more than one buzzes in, the first judge to buzz claims the singer outright for one of four slots on the team. This could get very interesting as rosters fill up, especially since there's no indication if those who aren't selected will get a second chance.

Here's how things shook out in week one of round two of Depi Evratesil:

Team Aram mp3

Aram mp3 made the first draft choice, selecting Lucy. You may remember her from episode two, where she sang "Runnin' (Lose it All)." This week, she covered "Mercy" by Duffy. I found her performance to be rather small and affected, not unlike singer into a hairbrush in front of a mirror. However, she does have vocal skills and underlying charisma, which should serve her well if she can get out of her shell.

Aram also snagged Sero Gevorgyan, who sang "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" back in week one. This week he attempted "Bang Bang" by Jessie J. Fun fact: that song has a deceptively high degree of difficulty. I was in a battle of the bands this summer and this track was part of our set and required hella tweaking to get it to work. While I applaud the guts to take on the challenge, this was not a great performance. I think with proper mentorship and better song choices, Sero could be a contender in this competition.

Team Hayko

Egine continues her implements of destruction toward all things musical, following her audition of "Wrecking Ball" with a cover of "Sledgehammer" by Rihanna. Perhaps there is something happening in the studio that isn't translating through television, but I do not understand why the judges are tripping over themselves for Egine. Hayko was first to buzz in, so he's stuck with her for at least one more round.

Team Inga Arshakyan

Syuzanna Melqonyan offered the first solid audition of the second round with her cover of "Power of Love" by Celine Dion. The vocal was stronger than her version of "A Woman's Worth" from round one, even though this audition did border on a Celine impersonation at times. If the competition were just among this week's contestants, I would say Syuzanna won the night.

Team Essaï Altounian

The rule about no buzzing in until the last ten seconds made it a real race for the judges to try to snag Opera Viva. They are hands down the most technically proficient act within the competition. However, I would like for them to tackle something that is closer to the pop realm, even if it is a cover of "Grande Amore" or some other operatic Eurovision throwback. There's a stiffness and air of inaccessibility to Opera Viva's performances, which could hold them back.

Team Iveta Mukuchyan

Speaking of Eurovision throwbacks, Christina Mangasaryan followed her "Euphoria" audition from last week with a cover of "Try" by Pink. Although she sang both songs well, both songs have a limited range, which may cause problems down the road if Christina can only perform within that range. Give me a convincing key change and we'll see how she holds up.

Team Anush Arshakyan

Anush didn't snag anyone this week, but there are still plenty of folks in the pipeline.

No Buzzes

Veronika Grigoryan was the first person to sing in round two, but received no buzzes from the judges this time around. I didn't care for her cover of "Shady Lady"((That song is sacred territory around here)) and it will be interesting to see how other contestants who had to do a second song in their first audition will do in this round.

Mary Mheryan, the pregnant lady with overalls from the first round, gave a somewhat lifeless rendition of "One Night Only" from Dreamgirls. Considering she got a unanimous vote in the first round, it is a bit of a surprise she isn't continuing in the competition (unless there is a second chance round if the rosters aren't full).

Rob Avalyan closed out the show with a cover of Greece's 2007 Eurovision entry "Yassou Maria." Aside from being dressed like he's going to the gym, it's... not a great song in 2016. If there is a second chance, I wouldn't mind seeing him come back with a pop song that is more contemporary.

Next week on Depi Evratesil: More round two auditions as 28 acts compete for 18 remaining slots."

Throwback Thursday: "Shady Lady" Ani Lorak Takes Ukraine to Belgrade Thu, 20 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 5a478391-23d2-449d-94a4-72dc04692ebd "Ukraine's Ani Lorak took the stage in Serbia in 2008 with "Shady Lady," which might be the prime example of a perfect Eurovision entry.


Song Title: "Shady Lady"
Artist: Ani Lorak
Semi-Final: Performed fourth in the second semi-final, finishing in 1st Place.
Grand Final: Performed 18th in the Final, finishing in 2nd place behind Russia.
Last year's entry: "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" - Verka Serduchka

Back in 2010, a blog I followed at the time did a post about Ukraine's 2007 Junior Eurovision entry. I was ever so vaguely aware of the existence of Eurovision, but this sent me down a fascinating YouTube rabbit hole. The next video to load up was Ani Lorak's performance of "Shady Lady" at the 2008 Contest.

As gateway drugs go, this is top quality. First, it opens with a loving, lingering shot of European stage technology, which America only sorta got a taste of when The X Factor debuted in 2011. The pulsing beat and pop-strings-of-severe-importance kicks in immediately, forcing the audience to pay attention. Ani Lorak starts to sing in front of a screen, which is actually booths containing backup dancers. "Shady Lady" is Lip Sync for Your Life dragtastic, and we are only 20 seconds into the performance. There are wind machines, head bobs, backflips, pyrotechnics: basically, everything that makes a Eurovision performance stand out without being too "Eurovision." On this past week's episode of Depi Evratesil, Armenia's 2017 Eurovision selection program, a contestant auditioned with "Shady Lady" and drew a hearty "YAAAAAAAS" from the folks watching at home.((I assume.))

2008 was the first year Eurovision split into two semi-finals. Even though Ukraine was a runner-up in 2007, the country had to compete again to qualify for the Grand Final. "Shady Lady" easily won the semi-final, earning six 12s and points from all but two countries. Unfortunately, the rivalry with Russia did not work in Ukraine's favor, as Dima Bilan's "Believe" dominated the scoreboard throughout the results portion of the Grand Final. Ukraine scored only one 12 to Russia's seven and finished only 12 points ahead of Greece to claim the runner-up slot.


Writers and producers do not always get the attention they deserve in Eurovision circles. Dimitris Kontopoulos, who co-produced this track, has an incredible Eurovision résumé.

In 2009, he co-wrote and produced Greece's entry "This is Our Night," which finished in seventh place. In 2013, he co-wrote Azerbaijan's "Hold Me"((which also featured a dancer in a booth)) and took second place again. The Tolmachevy Sisters took seventh place in 2014 with "Shine," which Kontopoulos co-composed. Most recently, Kontopoulos co-composed "You Are the Only One," which took third place in this year's Contest. He was also involved with the 2007 entry from Belarus, which had its best finish in sixth place.

In other words, the people behind "Shady Lady" have been incredibly successful in the Contest. Although Ani Lorak did not win, I would argue that "Shady Lady" may be a perfect Eurovision entry."

Throwback Thursday: Verka Serduchka has everyone "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" Thu, 13 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 2468b944-e0f5-4388-b138-722cd0cb164e "Let's jump back to 2007, when Ukraine's Verka Serduchka served Eurovision realness.<!--more-->


Song Title: "Dancing Lasha Tumbai"
Artist: Verka Serduchka
Semi-Final: No semi-final this time since Ukraine finished in the Top 10 in 2006.
Grand Final: 2nd place! More on that in a bit.
Last year's entry: "Show Me Your Love" - Tina Karol (7th place)

If you have ever attended a Eurovision viewing party, chances are you played some version of Bingo. Squares might have included "backup dancers," "military costumes," "fake languages/words," "Eurovision is not a political Contest((DRINK!))," and "drag queens." Ukraine's 2007 entry "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" by Verka Serduchka would get you a win without having to use the free square.

Verka Serduchka is a character played by Ukrainian performance artist Andriy Danylko. Drag performances aren't typically associated with Eastern Europe, particularly in 2007, which shows Ukraine fully embracing everything that's fabulous about Eurovision.

The song was originally titled "Danzing," which would have been fine by itself. However, the phrase "lasha tumbai" within the song caused some problems. Aside from the fact that it's not a real phrase in any language, when someone with a Ukrainian accent sings it, it kinda sounds like "Russia goodbye." It's at this point in recent history that diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia has broken down and a bit of a rivalry has developed at Eurovision. To sidestep concerns that the song contained political messages((#sideeye)), the title was changed to "Dancing Lasha Tumbai." Let's look at the video of the performance to get the rest of our bingo:


"Dancing Lasha Tumbai" is one of the most internationally popular songs in the Contest. It received points from every other country except Albania.((Serbia, which won with "Molitva," did receive 1 point from Albania. Not a gamechanger.)) Only six songs since then, before the scoring mechanism changed in 2016, could claim such a feat.((Norway in 2009 and Sweden and Italy in 2015 earned points from everyone; Sweden and Russia in 2012 and Denmark in 2013 got points from all but one country.))

Verka Serduchka has also become a bit of a mascot for Eurovision. She presented Ukraine's results at the 2016 Contest and will pop up in pretaped segments and postcards for the Contest and national finals. Andriy Danylko was also instrumental in Ukraine's national selection for 2016, serving as one of the judges alongside 2004 winner Ruslana. His critique of Jamala's performance included detailed notes about art direction and storytelling, which were much more nuanced than any notes other competitors received. That turned out well, don't you think?"

Throwback Thursday: Ukraine's Tina Karol asks to "Show Me Your Love" Thu, 06 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 084efa24-fa61-4ef7-9d8e-22f5ffe1c850 "Ukraine rebounded from 2005's entry to return to the Eurovision Top 10 in 2006, thanks to Tina Karol's "Show Me Your Love"


Song Title: "Show Me Your Love"
Artist: Tina Karol
Semi-Final: 7th place with 146 points
Grand Final: 7th place with 145 points.((Finland won the semi and the final with 292 both nights. Consistent!))
Last year's entry: "Razom nas bahato" - GreenJolly (19th place out of 24)

Greece won the right to host the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest after Elena Paparizou won in Kiev with "My Number One." Due to Ukraine's low ranking in 2005, the country was forced to compete in the semi-final. This was back when there was only one semi-final, so the entire field of participating countries voted. This allowed for a thorough vetting of 10 of the 24 entries before the Grand Final.

Tina Karol was selected through Ukraine's national final process. Her winning song was called "I Am Your Queen," which turned out to be a rough draft of what was ultimately sent to Athens. Here's the original:

And here's "Show Me Your Love":



It's not unusual for songs to get re-written and tweaked between selection and appearing on the Eurovision stage. However, this is a case where I think the tinkering was kind of unnecessary. On the one hand, the original version feels more natural and timely for 2006. On the other hand, the revised version has a more cohesive stage presentation (Tina Karol's boots aside) that allows for a clearer story and aesthetic. Both versions read as bargain Shakira, so the rest of the pluses and minuses kind of balance out.

Although "Show Me Your Love" is fairly generic by today's Eurovision standards, Tina Karol did quite well at the Contest. She got Ukraine back into the Top 10, which allowed for an automatic berth in 2007's final. Although the song received only one 12 between both the semi final and grand final, "Show Me Your Love" demonstrated the importance of receiving points from a lot of countries, even if they are 2's and 3's.

Ukraine was also in the running order behind Finland, which won the Contest with "Hard Rock Hallelujah" by Lordi. To say that Tina Karol is the opposite of Mr. Lordi is an understatement. However, it demonstrates how being a stark contrast to your running order neighbor can help you stand out in a field of 24-27 countries. Although "Show Me Your Love" will probably not rank in a list of Ukraine's most memorable entries, you can see how the country is improving each year. Staging is just as much a part of the strategy as song quality.

Since the Contest, Tina Karol has been a judge on Ukraine's version of The Voice and continues to release music."

Depi Evratesil Kicks off 2017 Selection Season Sun, 02 Oct 2016 20:00:00 -0500 a560fd56-65d6-4046-81d7-c283c741311b "Armenia's national selection series Depi Evratesil debuted Saturday, kicking off the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest selection season.<!--more-->

Despite having a fair amount of success at Eurovision the last few years with internal selections, Armenia will be using the TV show Depi Evratesil((Towards Eurovision)) to select its representative for the 2017 Contest. The three-month competition began Saturday with over two dozen auditions.

The judging panel features six Eurovision alumni. They are:

The auditions were pretty straightforward. A contestant would take the stage, offer their rendition of a pop song, and the judges would buzz in if they liked what they heard or saw. If a singer receives enough judges' approval, they move on to the next round. Although the judges offered critiques, they do not seem particularly picky at this stage. For example, one male contestant received the approval of three judges as soon as they realized he was singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" even though his actual performance was rather underwhelming. Another contestant gave an incredibly pitchy performance of "Wrecking Ball" but her leather outfit seemed to curry favor.((She also looked like a cross between Ivanka Trump and Nicole Scherzinger.))

A total of twelve contestants advanced to the next round. Those folks are:

  • Saro Gevorgyan
  • Artsvik
  • Egine
  • Alexander Plato
  • Mary Mheryan
  • Vahe Aleksanyan
  • Mariam Yevriyan
  • Syuzanna Melqonyan
  • Amalya Margaryan
  • Kristina Avetisyan
  • Anna Sedrakyan
  • Only Girls (a five-person girl group)

The next episode of Depi Evratesil airs Saturday, October 8 on Public Television of Armenia."

Throwback Thursday: Ukraine hosts Eurovision in 2005 Sun, 02 Oct 2016 05:00:00 -0500 5547c1de-22c5-4d50-adf7-ec91cb6be8fd "As Ukraine gets ready to host Eurovision Song Contest for the second time, let's look back at how the first go-round went.

Entry Background

Song Title: "Razom nas bahato" (Together we are many)
Artist: GreenJolly
Grand Final: This song finished in 19th place, which is Ukraine's worst finish to date.
Last year's entry: "Wild Dances" - Ruslana (Winner!)

Technically speaking, "Razom nas bahato" by the hip hop band GreenJolly is Ukraine's worst Eurovision entry to date. The song finished tied for 19th in a field of 24 countries, finishing ahead of the Big Four countries. In other words, all the automatic qualifiers((Not counting the Top 10 from 2004, which also advanced to the Final under the previous semi-final format)) were at the bottom of the pile. What on Earth happened?

There is a lot to dissect with this entry as to why it was not successful. First of all, there is a lengthy history of hip hop and rap not doing well at the Contest. Going as far back as 2010, there have only been a couple of songs with just elements of hip hop that have advanced to the final, let alone full-on rap songs that have qualified.

Second, Eurovision is not a political contest((DRINK!)), and this song pushed that rule to the limit. "Razom nas bahato" was the unofficial rallying song of the Orange Revolution, which took place following Ukraine's presidential election in the fall of 2004. The original lyrics to the song included naming actors involved in the protest, which did not fly with the European Broadcasting Union. However, even without the political rule, the oomph of the song is too specific to Ukraine. Much like performances of non-English songs with everyone wearing traditional garb from their native lands, there isn't much for the casual viewer to latch onto to make them say "ah, I get it."

This leads to my third issue with this entry: there is A LOT going on in this performance. Despite there being dancers and a band onstage, most of the movement within the staging is accomplished by indecisive camerawork. There isn't a clear aesthetic linking the members of the band, or the band with the dancers, or the music with the dancing. This is also an entry where you can imagine a countdown clock ticking away for three minutes with the song ending abruptly because time is almost up. Frankly, if Ukraine didn't automatically qualify for 2005, I'd be concerned that this would not have made the cut.



Despite these shortcomings, I wish more countries would take the risks Ukraine demonstrated with picking "Razom nas bahato." This was a song that represented what was happening in Ukraine in this particular moment in history, which has more resonance than whatever love song with dubstep elements will capture the pop zeitgeist of the day of a national final. Put another way, this song was viral (even if that virus was contained within one country). The only other example I can think of for an entry that went viral before becoming a Eurovision selection is Poland's "Slavic Girls" in 2014.

It seems there is also an unspoken agreement that the host country will not set out to win the Contest two years in a row. As a result, there's a tendency for the host to submit entries that are outside of the Eurovision norm. Sometimes this works well, such as "Taken by a Stranger" (Germany 2011) or "Cliche Love Song" (Denmark 2014), which both had different pop sensibilities than we're used to seeing. Other times it doesn't work out, such as Austria's "I Am Yours" in 2015, which tied for last place with zero points. However, as I remarked in the review for that entry, "the reasons why it wouldn't succeed demonstrates the strength of the song," in that it provides contrast to what normally qualifies.

It is interesting that while the specifics of the political unrest in Ukraine have changed, the dynamics of how that may be presented in 2017 probably have not. Rather than hovering near the bottom of the leaderboard with a political-ish song about the Russian/Ukrainian conflict, Kiev won the right to host the Contest. There is an even bigger audience now than there was 12 years ago, and Ukraine has an opportunity to share their side of the story they want to tell."

Throwback Thursday: Ruslana's "Wild Dances" wins Eurovision Thu, 22 Sep 2016 05:00:00 -0500 9bbfafb7-0100-4ea3-9940-f58fc9957b0b "Continuing our look back at Ukraine's Eurovision history, we examine "Wild Dances" by Ruslana. This is the first Ukrainian entry to win the Contest.


Song Title: "Wild Dances"
Artist: Ruslana
Semi-Final: Finished second behind Serbia & Montenegro's debut "Lane Moje" by Eurovision powerhouse Zeljko Joksimovic.
Grand Final: Winner! Ukraine edged out Serbia & Montenegro by 17 points.
Last year's entry: "Hasta La Vista" - Oleksandr Ponomariov (14th place out of 26)

2004 was a significant year for the Eurovision Song Contest. First, four countries made their debut in the competition--Albania, Andorra, Belarus, and Serbia & Montenegro. Monaco also returned from a lengthy hiatus. In total, 36 countries said they wanted to compete. To accommodate this increased interest, Eurovision introduced the concept of the semifinal. 22 countries competed to earn 10 spots in the Grand Final. Those countries joined the top 10 countries from 2003 and what would become the Big Four (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom). It was also the first time the winner was decided completely by televote.

Although streaming wasn't a thing yet, the Contest also had some implications in America, thanks to the winning song "Wild Dances" by Ruslana. The call to battle from the opening horns plus the stomps and battle cries punctuating the beats proved to be infectious. "Wild Dances" appears in the soundtrack for Grand Theft Auto IV on the Eastern European radio station. In 2012, U.S. gymanast Jordyn Wieber used the song as part of her floor routine at the London Olympics.


It's 12 years later and "Wild Dances" still holds up. The song doesn't try to deliver any larger message, but it brings the party. The performance is ridiculously physical, making Ruslana's vocals impressive. Also, it indicates a shift for Eurovision that maybe trying to be pop- or radio-friendly isn't such a bad idea.

Ruslana has maintained quite the career since winning Eurovision. Along with being a judge on several reality music competitions (including last year's national selection for Ukraine), Ruslana continues to record music. She has been a fervent supporter of Ukrainian democracy and EU participation. Ruslana was politically active in the Orange Revolution in 2004-05. She obtained a seat in Ukraine's parliament for a brief stint in 2006. Ruslana was one of the more notable protesters during the Crimean peninsula incident a few years ago.

It would not be surprising if Ruslana were somehow involved in next year's Contest, including a possible hosting gig."

Throwback Thursday: Ukraine says "Hasta La Vista" to Eurovision Thu, 15 Sep 2016 05:00:00 -0500 ea633be0-1e58-471a-b018-e706536403fb "Ukraine will definitely host the Eurovision Song Contest in 2017! Let's take a look back at the entries the country has submitted over the years. First up: 2003's "Hasta La Vista" by Oleksandr Ponomaryov.<!--more-->

Eurovision in 2003

Riga, Latvia played host to the 48th edition of the Contest, thanks to "I Wanna" by Marie N. 26 countries competed, which was a record at the time. Turkey won the event with "Everyway That I Can" by Sertab Erener, while the United Kingdom finished in last place with nil points, courtesy of Jemini's "Cry Baby."((Not undeserved, by the way.)) Ukraine had to follow UK in the running order, which is somewhat unfortunate for the new kid on the block. Despite this, the song finished respectably in 14th place.

"Hasta La Vista"

To be fair, this was before I started following Eurovision. Had I known that it was this square while existing in the same temporal plane as:

  • "In da Club"
  • "Ignition (Remix)"
  • "Crazy in Love"
  • "Bring Me to Life"
  • "Lose Yourself"

I probably wouldn't be writing this post today. That being said, this is a good first entry for what Eurovision was in 2003 -- inoffensive, a spectacle without being spectacular, and something your mom would enjoy without objection. "Hasta la Vista" is par for the course, which is probably why it finished in the exact center of the field. It's a solid demonstration of Ukraine diving into the Eurovision game without making noticeable waves.

Where is Oleksandr Ponomaryov now?

Oleksandr was already an accomplished singer before heading to Eurovision. He released several albums and received the distinction of "Honored Artist of Ukraine" in 1998. After the Contest, Oleksandr released a couple more albums and has worked in front of and behind the camera in some films. In 2011, Oleksandr signed on to be one of the coaches in Ukraine's version of The Voice (Holos Krainy). He eventually mentored Ukraine's 2014 representative Mariya Yaremchuk. They finished 4th.

Although Oleksandr's official website hasn't updated his biography since 2012, there is still content from recent projects scattered throughout the site. His YouTube Channel also has some activity, with a live performance uploaded just a couple weeks ago."

Eurovision 2016 Semi-Final 2 Wrapup: Who are the last 10 qualifiers? Fri, 13 May 2016 00:30:00 -0500 c71b1e7a-814b-47f7-b6b6-be8b889d4ddf Thursday featured 18 countries competing for the last 10 slots in Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest 2016 Grand Final. Who made the cut?<!--more-->

Another exciting Eurovision semi-final and another satisfying list of qualifiers came out of Thursday's broadcast from Stockholm, Sweden. Like Tuesday, 18 countries competed for 10 slots. Unlike Tuesday, this one was chock full of challengers to Russia, Armenia, and Malta for the ultimate goal of winning this year's Contest. Here are the 10 countries that qualified in the order they were announced:

  • Latvia
  • Georgia((!!!))
  • Bulgaria
  • Australia
  • Ukraine
  • Serbia
  • Poland
  • Israel
  • Lithuania
  • Belgium

Based on Thursday's performances, this feels like the correct list of qualifiers. Switzerland, Ireland, and Denmark offered some fine but unremarkable renditions of their entries. Slovenia and Albania never had momentum, though the song from the former grew in popularity among the WEIO team. Norway's Agnete offered a cookie cutter version of her national final performance, which offered nothing new to entice the viewer. FYR Macedonia had a particularly rough performance, ending with Kaliopi's trademark scree -- which doesn't really fit with "Dona." IVAN from Belarus appeared to have been overtaken by nerves during his performance, which underwhelmed. The rumors of his naked with wolves gameplan did lead to this delightful moment, so...thanks, Belarus!

The biggest surprise of the night came from Georgia, whose performance complemented the rock track perfectly. Thomas G:son, who is also heavily involved with the entry from Cyprus, will have two rock songs competing in the Eurovision final.

In terms of predictions, Team WEIO did okay. Lithuania and Georgia took the slots we gave to FYR Macedonia and Norway, but there are no complaints about that trade.((Other than none of us picked Lithuania to advance.))

In the next few hours we should learn what the running order will be for the Grand Final. The dress rehearsal and jury vote will take place Friday evening. Then it is on to Saturday, where one of the 26 finalists will win the Eurovision Song Contest. Are you excited? Good.

Eurovision Song Contest 2016 Second Semi-Final: Our Predictions Thu, 12 May 2016 10:00:00 -0500 d576911b-6910-4073-8f0d-41bbe125c3c7 Our second Eurovision semi-final picks are in; will we do better than the first semi-final?

Hoo boy, so we kinda tanked in our picks for the first Eurovision Song Contest semi-final, only getting 7 out of 10 right collectively (and not doing much better individually). Regardless, we here at telESCope shall persevere as we try our hand at predicting which of the 19((Sorry, Romania.)) 18 acts will advance from Thursday's second semi-final.

But first, let’s rehash Ryan's methodology summary. Ben, Ryan, and I ranked the entries three times. The first ranking was just to get a sense of what we liked and what we didn’t once all the entries were selected, and this ranking did not factor into our final scores. It did help us gauge improvement and/or disappointment over time. For our second ranking in mid-April, we each compared each individual entry against the others in the field asking the question “which entry is more likely to qualify.” We used this same ranking process for our third ranking after watching all of last week's rehearsal footage on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

For balance and to incorporate some on-the-ground perspective, we also used the press center votes,((Posted by escXtra and others)) the YouTube views of the official music videos, and the betting odds from A few maths later, and we had our picks! Without further ado, here in alphabetical order are the ten countries we predict will advance from the first semi-final:

  1. Australia
  2. Belgium
  3. Bulgaria
  4. FYR Macedonia
  5. Israel
  6. Latvia
  7. Norway
  8. Poland
  9. Serbia
  10. Ukraine

As an example of how weird our methodology can be, 13 of today's 18 competitors made it into one or more of our personal Top 10 lists. Norway is arguably our biggest gamble, as it has ridden the bubble on all of our metrics throughout this process. Also, with many surprises coming out of the first semi-final, there could be huge (but satisfying) upsets in the offing.

The second semi-final takes place today at at 2100 CET / 3:00pm EDT / 12:00pm PDT, and can be streamed live via the website. Good luck to all the contestants!

Eurovision 2016 Semi-final 1 Wrap-up: Who's Going to the Grand Final? Tue, 10 May 2016 23:00:00 -0500 4ca96aae-606c-4b04-bb2e-cb5ed8491272 The votes are in, and we have broken streaks to report! Which ten countries from today's semi-final advanced to Saturday's Grand Final?

The 61st Eurovision Song Contest began today with the first semi-final, in which eighteen countries competed for ten spots in Saturday's Grand Final. Last year's winner, Måns Zelmerlöw, opened the show with a much more somber version of his winning song, Heroes, featuring a live cast of singing and dancing children in place of last year's CGI army. After a few opening words and jokes from co-hosts Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede, the action started quickly. Thanks to votes from juries and viewers in the participating and designated countries,((France, Spain, and Sweden)) these are the ten that advanced to Saturday’s Grand Final:

In our prediction post from earlier this morning, we correctly predicted seven qualifiers. Our three mistakes were selecting Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, and Iceland over Austria, Cyprus, and Hungary. To be fair, Austria probably messed with a lot of predictions.((In our rankings, only two of nine categories correctly made that prediction. Austria was also the lone miss for the oddsmakers. Hope you put lots of money on ZOË!)) Among WEIO writers, ZOË started out on the bubble and moved farther out of contention with each additional poll. Today, though, her performance was great. As for Iceland, I have no explanation for why Greta Salome failed to qualify. She was not even close to the bubble, averaging sixth place across nine categories, and I felt her performance today was spot on. I'm honestly shocked. It wouldn't be Eurovision without at least one surprise, though.

Other items of note:

  • Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina both had perfect qualification records coming into tonight. Both of those have now been broken. My condolences to fans of both of those countries!
  • On the flip side, the Czech Republic had never qualified out of their semifinal before today. Saturday will be their first ever appearance at a Eurovision Grand Final. Yay! Congrats to Gabriela Gunčíková and the whole Czech team.
  • The interval act was a dance number entitled "The Gray People," addressing the European refugee crisis. It was an incredibly powerful performance. I strongly encourage you to check the Eurovision YouTube channel to see if they upload a recording.
  • Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Netherlands will perform in the first half of Saturday's Grand Final. Armenia, Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Malta, and Russia will perform in the second half.

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest will take place Thursday at 9pm CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific. If you missed today's live stream, you can catch up with individual performance videos on the Eurovision YouTube channel. Thursday's live stream of the second semi-final will be available via the website. If you're outside the United States, you can also catch the second semi-final on YouTube.((Apparently the EBU's contract with LOGO means the semi-final streams must be blocked from viewers located in the US, even though LOGO is not airing them. Harrumph.))

Eurovision Song Contest 2016 First Semi-Final: Our Predictions Tue, 10 May 2016 11:00:00 -0500 e782fe98-182b-45aa-b077-fc30bb65fd5a Our first semi-final picks are in; let the Eurovision Song Contest begin!

It's here! It's May! I am so excite! The Eurovision Song Contest's first semi-final takes place today; eighteen countries will battle for just ten tickets to Saturday's Grand Final. After months of reading, listening, and watching videos,((Over, and over, and over, and over ... or was that just me?)) it's time to put these entries on the stage. Who will be left standing at the end? We've made our picks ...

But first, let’s talk for a moment about methodology. Ben, Mike, and I ranked the entries three times. The first ranking was just to get a sense of what we liked and what we didn’t once all the entries were selected, and this ranking did not factor into our final scores. It did help us gauge improvement and/or disappointment over time. For our second ranking in mid-April, we each compared each individual entry against the others in the field asking the question “which entry is more likely to qualify.” We used this same ranking process for our third ranking after watching all of last week's rehearsal footage on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

For balance and to incorporate some on-the-ground perspective, we also used the press center votes,((Posted by escXtra and others)) the YouTube views of the official music videos, and the betting odds from A few maths later, and we had our picks! Without further ado, here in alphabetical order are the ten countries we predict will advance from the first semi-final:

  1. Armenia
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  4. Croatia
  5. Czech Republic
  6. Estonia
  7. Iceland
  8. Malta
  9. Netherlands
  10. Russia

Although we have pretty varying opinions on how these entries rank, as a group we are pretty sure most of these are somewhere in the top ten. Three are unanimous, picked to qualify in all nine rankings we took into consideration. Five more were picked to qualify in at least seven of the nine rankings. That doesn't mean we're going to be right, of course -- a couple of entries in this semifinal have been trending upward at the last minute, and could easily sneak in. All we can do now is watch and hope.

The first semi-final takes place today at at 2100 CET / 3:00pm EDT / 12:00pm PDT, and can be streamed live via the website. Good luck to all the contestants!

2016 Rehearsals Day 6: Germany, Italy, the UK, and SF2 Sat, 07 May 2016 21:00:00 -0500 d4ce4a01-eb9f-45c7-bb88-90f0b9acb1b9 Saturday's rehearsals gave us our first glimpse at the remaining automatic qualifiers, as eighteen countries solidified their plans for the second semifinal next Thursday.

Today's packed schedule begins with the first rehearsals for the remaining half of the automatic qualifiers, and continues with the participants from semifinal 2 getting their second shot on the Globe Arena stage. As with yesterday's performers, the second rehearsal is key; this is the time when they’re finalizing costume choices, working through lighting and camera issues, tightening up choreography, and working out any remaining kinks. The next time these eighteen countries take the stage, next Wednesday, they’ll be performing in front of the national juries that will account for half of their score.

Here are first impressions from Saturday's rehearsals:


I'm really glad Germany automatically qualifies for the Grand Final; over the last few days I have become increasingly concerned that all of the campy, WTF-type entries wouldn't perform during my watch party next weekend. Jamie-Lee is doing a good job with her vocals, but at the moment looks like a little girl lost in the woods. "Who's scared now, Mr. Wolf?" This is only Germany's first rehearsal, so they've got some time to figure it out.


Are those ... bedazzled overalls? This looks like Francesca in Wonderland, and not in a good way. See what I said above about automatic qualifiers.


In my brain this belongs with Denmark as fairly well-sung but generic song about love and belonging that will be forgotten almost immediately. The staging so far doesn't do anything to make this entry stick.


I like this song, and Justs continues to kill it vocally. He's just so awkward onstage, and I can't decide whether it's endearing or vaguely stalkery. I'm a little concerned the all-black outfit won't stand out against whatever else is going on (the angle here doesn't show us much of what's happening with the graphics), but mostly I want to rip that dangling belt off.


This entry is pure 80s, and although I don't love it, I don't hate it either. I can appreciate the hair-band ballad approach to singing, and that the LEDs on the electric violins match Szpak's Color Me Badd-inspired jacket. If Szpak can smooth out the vocals on that key change, I can see this pretty solidly making the final.


The only endearing part of this performance, for me, was Rykka's wonderful curls, and they've TAKEN THAT AWAY from me. Her live vocals are much better than we've heard recently, but the staging is boring, and honestly it was physically painful for me to watch this performance. Please, let's put this song out of it's misery.


The press corps have been raving about this performance, and now I understand why. Acrobats, lots of sparkles in costuming and backdrop, fire raining from the sky, a strong and sincere vocal performance from Hovi Star that builds dramatically ... wow! His voice gave out a little at the end, which makes me nervous, but otherwise I can absolutely see this qualifying very high out of this semifinal.


I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, BELARUS. You trolled us all, putting footage of a naked IVAN rehearsing with real wolves, and made us think that was going to happen in real time onstage. Nudity and wolves are in fact happening, just via pre-recorded footage. God help me but I actually am looking forward to seeing this entry in the semifinals, and I would enjoy seeing it during the Finals as well.


I love the staging for this song so much! The physicality of the struggle with her abuser, a final rejection, then taking shelter with her gal pals at the end. So, so great. Like several others the last couple of days, a vocal issue at the height of the song (hopefully temporary), but otherwise a powerful song and performance. Not sure I love the all-black ensemble Sanja's wearing -- it's highly textured, but it seems like some red or another contrasting color in there would make it pop better.


Ugh, this is the second rehearsal in a row Nicky hasn't been able to find his notes, and even when he can mostly find them, he's pitchy. There's nothing in the staging, from what I can tell, that will distract from his lackluster vocal performance. I don't hate this entry as badly as Switzerland, but it's close.


What a great voice Kaliopi has. I think they're smart to make that the centerpiece of this performance, but when she's not singing, she seems a little bit lost onstage, and there's nothing else for viewers to look at. I really want to like this song, but it's repetitive and I have a hard time listening to it all the way through, let alone multiple times.


This young man is a hot mess right now. What in the hell is he wearing on his head, and why does everybody think that dressing in all-black is the way to go on this stage? It would be awesome if those were the biggest problems, but he's so focused on getting the jump right that he comes in, and remains, a full beat late for almost twenty seconds before he figures it out. Painful.


This is another performance the press have been raving about, but I'm not sure I agree. What this video leaves out is that there are holograms / projections she's interacting with, but even having seen them (in another rehearsal video) I'm not sure it deserves the level of excitement it's getting. Dami Im has a great voice, but this is another entry (like Russia) where it feels like technology is driving the performance, and opposed to acting in service to it.


Hmmm. That acrobat is perfectly dressed but tragically underused, and the graphics and staging are bland. At least ManuElla's not wearing black?


Is that Bulgaria being cheeky towards Russia, putting up one finger at the end and making it into a "no" finger shake? (I hope so.) This performance looks really good! I love the edgy nude panels on the dress, and am looking forward to seeing the full effect of the LEDs, although I worry about how well they'll come across on TV.


This is the second year in a row Denmark's sent a mediocre boy band, and I have to wonder at what point they'll learn their lesson. The song's bland and generic, the staging is boring, and somebody's singing out of tune at the top of their range. And ALL BLACK. Note to everybody, wear a color.


JAMALA YAAAAASSSSS. I love everything, everything, everything about this performance -- her deep blue gown with cape and sparkly pants, her hair, the wind machine, the graphics, her voice. (There are also graphics on the floor that don't appear in this video, and I can't wait to see them based on the descriptions I've heard.) This was another entry that the press has been raving about, and I am in complete agreement. I've had this entry at the top of my semifinal 2 list since the beginning, and now this performance puts Jamala at the top of the contest for me.


This performance hasn't changed much from the national final, with the exception that the dancer is no longer hidden in (what I imagine as) a large ice cube. I'm a little bit sad about that staging choice, to be honest. I also like the way Agnete's midriff provides a break from all the white -- it's a great dress, and I love the visual texture, but she's petite and I could see her easily getting lost if it were one piece all the way down.


Good costume change from the first rehearsal, where we saw Eneda in jeans and a blazer, but I wish there was a break from the bronzey color palette of her hair, skin, and dress. It makes her look a little like an Oscar, as in the actual trophy handed out to winners. I'm also not not sure what's going on with those ruffles, but that could just be the camera angle.


What is even happening with those graphics? I actually like this song, although this performance was not the greatest I've seen, but those visuals give me headaches for real.


I think Belgium is underrated this year, and this entry has so much energy and a distinctive style. Those costumes are fantastic. That stripe down the leg looks so sharp, and the graphics bring lots of warm color. I love the new ending of the song -- ending with a bang instead of a whimper -- and I only wish the backing dancers joined Laura out there on the extension of stage before the very very end. They need more time to dance together! Anyway, I think this is a great way to end the second semifinal.

Sunday will be a shorter work day for the Eurovision crew, with second rehearsals for the Big Five (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) and Sweden.

2016 Rehearsals Day 5: SF1, France, and Spain Fri, 06 May 2016 23:00:00 -0500 eff12ebc-20cc-4590-9e8d-28310be06006 Friday provided a clearer separation of the wheat from the chaff as all eighteen performers from Semifinal 1 took to the Eurovision stage for their second rehearsals.

The second rehearsal is key for Eurovision performers; this is the time when they're finalizing costume choices, working through lighting and camera issues, tightening up choreography, and working out any remaining kinks. The next time these eighteen countries take the stage next Monday, they'll be performing in front of the national juries that will account for half of their score.

Here are first impressions from Friday's rehearsals:


Apparently this is the final costuming? And those vocals ... they are not good. Here's hoping Sandhja's just tired, and will be able to get some rest over the weekend. Props to those backup singers, who are doing great work trying to give energy, but ultimately the staging is static and the performance flat.


When in doubt, dance with your arms! Seriously though: I'm not a fan of this staging, in part because it reminds me too much of Portugal 2011. It's very Greek, though, and hopefully some smart camera angles will capture some of the energy the dancers are bringing. Greece has never failed to qualify, but this just might be the year it happens.


This dress is definitely better than whatever she was wearing in the first semifinal, but ... a stripper astronaut? I'm so sad this most likely won't make it to the Grand Final, because I'd love to include that in the game I'll be running at my watching party next weekend.


Freddie continues to look like someone pulled him off the street to fill in for the real performer. At least we finally have the actual drummer, who seems like the only one who's trying. This entry will forever be known to me as #PleaseClap.


Vocals are a mess in this one, which is surprising -- it seems like Nina has been pretty consistent up to this point. Or maybe I just haven't seen enough live performances from her. Love the feather keyboard dress, though! I look forward to seeing why those other people are onstage, besides making the costume change happen.


Booooooring. Five of the first six performers stand and sing, and while Douwe Bob is executing the vocals really well, he's not doing anything to stand out visually. I'm pretty sure he and Serhat are wearing the same suit, in the same color family even.


Once again with the awful vocals! Did somebody put something in the coffee? I love this outfit, though -- much better than the solid black leotard she was wearing in the first rehearsal. It'd be great if we could see more of that train. I'm constantly in fear she's going to walk backwards and trip over it.


OMG this entry. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The synchronized head snap is a nice touch, but they all seem more interested in giving face than coming in on time. And I'm still upset there's no monocle headstrap. At least there's some movement onstage.


Poor Sergey. After collapsing from exhaustion onstage a few weeks ago, he's now slipped off the setpiece, and is locked in a dead heat with France heading into the semifinals. That is a whole lot of falling. Overall I am so disappointed in the staging choices for this performance, which force him to move tentatively instead of showing off his moves with energy. Not that many people in this contest can dance like Sergey Lazarev, and by not taking advantage, Russia is ignoring their biggest advantage. How sad.


What a great song, and a great performance! Gabriela and her backup singer(s?) are spot on, and it's a joy to hear them put on a strong vocal performance after so many weak ones. I wish there was more going on visually, but we have yet to see this with the full graphics, so it's possible that will help with energy.


Okay, so, I actually think this is a decent song, and I really appreciate the energy the backing musicians are putting into their fake instrument playing, including the hair whipping from the lead guitarist. The cages might be too much, though -- besides (as Mike pointed out) creating an obstacle course for the steadicam operators, it's visually cluttered with the lights and the squares in the stage floor.


Well, at least the second half of this semifinal is shaping up to have better vocal performances, if not to have any more movement onstage. Another stand-and-singer, but the vocals are executed well, and the graphics do a great job of creating the sugary-sweet atmosphere.


Estonia is in the same boat as Russia right now; they have a really good song with potential that's suffering as a result of performance choices. Jüri has no idea what to do with his arms, so he keeps doing the same thing: lifting with an open palm. It's awkward. I appreciate the card trick he pulls, and it's on theme with the graphics, but the scale is wrong. On the Eurovision stage, one card isn't going to show up. You need to throw an entire deck for that to make sense. And don't use a random card, either! Use a deck made up only of Aces of Hearts. Come on, don't make me do this for you.


I am sitting here LMAO over the half-dressed football gladiators voguing with their mic stands while singing "mira, mira mira." And the pyrotechnics are awesome, as one would expect from the Land of Fire. This is exactly the kind of visual performance I watch Eurovision to see. Unfortunately the vocal performance is a hot mess, the same as in the first rehearsal. This is the exact same problem Azerbaijan had last year -- good song, weak vocals -- so I'm interested to see it repeat. Apparently Samra has been sick the last few days, so hopefully as her health improves, her voice will as well.


There is a LOT of lighting going on here, and we're still waiting on that dancer to appear.


There's not much more we can say about this one; it's been the same since the national final, and probably nothing will change from here forward.


I can't decide which of those dresses is more fierce, and does taking off one's jacket count as a costume change? I'll be honest, the staging with the barbed wire makes me really uncomfortable; it reminds me of the Holocaust Memorial in San Francisco. But I suppose that's the point, to conjure up images of war.


Ira Losco has ditched the jacket and projections for a black sleeveless dress with gold rhinestones. (Thank goodness, it's not Eurovision until someone comes out covered in rhinestones.) We've got the reverse camera angle this time, so a better look at the interplay between her and her dancer. It's another stand-and-sing, but the movement will really help keep the energy, especially as Malta's performing last in this semifinal.


Amir's vocals are spot on, but his outfit and the backdrop graphics are both well-tailored but generic. And no dancers? This is only France's first rehearsal, so plenty of time to make updates. I honestly don't understand why this entry is nipping at Russia's heels, but then there's a lot I don't, and will never hope to, understand about Eurovision.


This is about what we expected from Barei -- an energetic performance featuring hi-top sneaker heels and her signature dance. Her backup singers need a little work, but other than that, it's hard to tell what the finished product will be. We'll know more after Spain's second rehearsal over the weekend.

Saturday will feature a full runthrough of the second semi final as well as the first rehearsals for Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

2016 Rehearsals Day 4: Slovenia through Belgium Thu, 05 May 2016 23:30:00 -0500 6766219a-c916-49e8-a34b-d322c8102ab9 The second Eurovision semi final completed its first round of rehearsals Thursday in Stockholm, Sweden.<!--more-->

The eight acts rounding out the second semi final had their first stage rehearsals Thursday. From the looks of it, there is an upward progression of energy as we work toward next Thursday's big show.

Here are first impressions from Thursday's rehearsals:


SLOVENIA! Okay, this song has really grown on me in the last month or so. I appreciate that they seem to be making lemonade out of lemons, considering this has zero momentum or support out there.


Get it, girl! It's about time that we have a singer who is not just standing in place while using the full technology of the stage provided.


At least Lighthouse X isn't wearing beige?


Ukraine is currently leading the press poll out of Stockholm, which has me curious as to what the rest of the performance looks like. There was not much going on in this snippet to generate that kind of response.


My favorite part of this clip is how we don't have Agnete explaining how this song is about love/dreams/miracles/Eurovision. The performance looks fairly similar to the Norwegian final.


This is low energy compared to what I was hoping for, but perhaps the breakdown at the end will feature more rocking out.


I wonder if there is a more elaborate costume in the works, as the music video would have had us to expect.


More like this for 2017, please. I am so looking forward to the full performance for this one.

Friday will feature a full runthrough of the first semi final as well as the first rehearsals for France and Spain.

2016 Rehearsals Day 3: Latvia through Australia Wed, 04 May 2016 23:45:00 -0500 89a9eb4d-d811-4566-9386-025480b80aa6 The first 10 acts from the second semi final of the Eurovision Song Contest got a chance to rehearse on stage Wednesday in Stockholm, Sweden.


The performers from the front half of the Eurovision Song Contest's second semi final got their chance to take the stage in Stockholm's Globe Arena Wednesday.

Here are first impressions from Wednesday's rehearsals:


This looks similar to the Supernova final performance, but Justs appears to have a lot more energy this time around.


This feels very similar to Norway's 2014 entry, both in style and staging. That was a song I didn't really get but was extremely popular, which may be a similar situation now.


This staging, while stand-and-sing, is much better than what we saw in the Swiss final. Also, we have an entry for the "does not know what to do with arms" for the Eurovision bingo card.


This matches up to what I think I was expecting for this performance, but I'm hoping for more pop. I wouldn't be surprised if confetti gets added to the mix, and I'm curious what the glowing rings in the background may be doing.


No wolves or nudity.((YAY!)) The animation looks a little off, but I'm intrigued by the visuals on the backdrop. Could Belarus be on the rise?


The vocals are fine, but let's touch on the choreography. I love that there are dancers telling the story, but this snippet of dancing seems a little too loose. Perhaps So You Think You Can Dance has conditioned me to expect more precise storytelling with this kind of dance/song combo.


DoesNotKnowWhattoDowithArms. Also, the second verse sounded a little rough, despite the echo of the venue.

FYR Macedonia

Another stand-and-sing, but Kaliopi has the charisma to carry it through. If the backdrop doesn't change, I hope there is some interesting camera work to make the performance dynamic.


Those pants get a 12. Did I say that out loud? Um, yes. So, Lithuania's strategy seems to be to play the pretty boy card. This may be a winning strategy for getting to the final.


Eeep, I really hope Dami Im isn't planning on Aguilera'ing this song within an inch of its life. The fact that there were two Aguilera moments in the above clip does not fill me with confidence.

Thursday we will see the rehearsals for the rest of the second semi final. Then the prognostication goes nuts. So exciting!

2016 Rehearsals Day 2: Czech Republic through Malta plus Sweden Tue, 03 May 2016 21:45:00 -0500 de0a0dc9-b9b9-401e-9e5e-7778721123fa Tuesday saw ten more countries rehearsing for the first time on Stockholm's Eurovision Song Contest stage.

The second half of the first semi final got its turn to rehearse on the stage in Stockholm on Tuesday. Host country Sweden also got to rehearse at the end of the day. As usual, mini clips of each session were posted on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

Here are first impressions from Tuesday's rehearsals:

Czech Republic

Well, yes, Gabriela Guncikova is just standing there, which will probably be happening a lot among the contestants of the semi-finals. It doesn't look like there will be a lot of distractions on stage or in the backdrop.


The cage motif is a bit of a surprise. It will be interesting to see how that looks on TV — especially with the steadicam having to navigate an obstacle course.


Another stand-and-sing. The colorful backdrop looks pretty, but I wonder how much will be able to translate to television in closeup shots of Zoe.


Has this song always had a Vegas motif? The backdrop is a little bland, but from photos on the Eurovision site, it looks like there will be a lot of floor graphics in use.


I wonder if this clip was from the first runthrough, because those vocals were not great. I could understand if there was an audio issue or getting kicked off wrong, but things were pitchy. The second rehearsal will be important for Azerbaijan.


Props to Montenegro for doing its own thing, even if it has historically led to abysmal results at Eurovision. The clip doesn't show it, but there will be a dancer on stage amidst the noise, so there's that.


Much like Hungary, Iceland has done zero alterations to their performance since the national final.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

The barbed wire wall looks interesting, but there still appears to be a separation between the singers, the musician, and the rapper. Perhaps the full version will appear to be cohesive.


Based on where the dancer is located, the performance seems to be blocked for an angle opposite of the one the above clip uses. In other words, not much of a first impression because we can't see what we should be seeing.


I still do not understand why Sweden is sitting in fourth with the bookies right now. I'll be curious how the stage transition will work because what we saw above was not all that telegenic.

Wednesday the second semi-final participants begin to take the stage for their first round of rehearsals. Latvia will kick things off and Australia will wrap up the day.

2016 Rehearsals Day 1: Finland through Russia Mon, 02 May 2016 22:15:00 -0500 ed6f66f2-e55f-4be1-9a42-ac3a1c8083fb The first half of the first Eurovision Song Contest semi final rehearsed their performances on the Globen stage in Stockholm.<!--more-->

Monday we received our first looks at what participants in the first semi final of the Eurovision Song Contest will bring to the stage in Stockholm, Sweden. The first nine acts — Finland, Greece, Moldova, Hungary, Croatia, the Netherlands, Armenia, San Marino, and Russia — each had about an hour to work on their performances, with snippets posted on Eurovision's YouTube channel.

It was also announced today that the cable channel Logo (home of RuPaul's Drag Race and reruns of the Golden Girls) will be airing the Grand Final of the Contest live on Saturday, May 14. Although the press release says the network, its app, and its website said it will have exclusive streaming of the show in the U.S., it is unclear at this time if that means watching on the Eurovision website or the YouTube channel will be blocked, or if you may need to resort to other methods to watch if you do not have access to Logo content. We will be keeping a close eye on this situation as it unfolds.((BYO pitchfork sharpener if it comes to it.))

Anyway, here are first impressions from Monday's rehearsals:


Definitely getting a ’70s nightclub vibe from this performance, which is a pretty good way of opening up the festivities. I'll be interested to see what the final costuming looks like.


There isn't much happening in this snippet, which either means there wasn't a convenient section to clip that wouldn't be too spoilery or there isn't much to offer. 2016 will be the year we learn the true strength of the Greek diaspora if this song advances.


Two questions:
1) Girl, what you wearin'?
2) Is that the same dancer from Lithuania's performance in 2014?


Nothing has changed from the national final performance other than I think the drum is smaller? What the H, Hungary?


Be sure to add "Costume Change" to your Eurovision bingo cards! And I'm glad they aren't going too literal with the backdrop art.


Hmmm, this song may find itself closer to the bubble if this honky tonk style performance remains flat. It wouldn't be Eurovision without a surprise or two.


I was hoping for dancers, but we should be getting a heavy dose of pyrotechnics, so it's a fair trade. The photos on the Eurovision website have me more excited about this performance than this video does.

San Marino

This is the Eurovisioniest thing that has Eurovisioned in years. I can't wait for the second rehearsal video later this week.


RussiaGonnaRussia. Or, as Ryan put in a tweet about 75 seconds after this video clip went live: "!!!!!!!!"

Tuesday we will see the rehearsals for the rest of the contestants from the first semi final, as well as host country Sweden. The first semi final will get its last chance to rehearse on the Globen stage Friday.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Sweden — Frans — "If I Were Sorry" Fri, 29 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 0009f0da-1020-42f3-9c79-bd259f078135 Sweden doesn't seem to be "Sorry" about their choice of Frans as their auto-qualifier for the Eurovision Song Contest

Country: Sweden
Song Title: "If I Were Sorry"
Artist: Frans
Last year's entry: "Heroes" - Mans Zelmerlow (Winner)

I don't pay too much attention to the bookies when it comes to Eurovision predictions (especially when it's early in the season when all the contestants haven't even been fully decided), but one thing that's mystified me this season is their insistence that Sweden could potentially win the contest for another year in a row.  Besides that being a rare occurrence in the first place, a country's entry the year after they've won is usually a nice victory lap - a way to say "Yes, we won last year, and here's an entry that's pretty good to show that we deserved to win, but we would prefer to not host again next year thank you."  When I first visited this song, I thought Sweden had made an interesting choice with Frans' "If I Were Sorry" by going for something that didn't feel overly "Eurovision" as their victory lap.  How does it hold up now that we're a few weeks away?

This daytime TV appearance is hopefully a little more "acoustic" than the final performance of this song will be, but it also highlights for me why this song really doesn't feel like a strong contender for a second Eurovision win.  The gentler rendition actually feels perfect for daytime TV, but this straightforward staging feels a little too plain for the grand stage Sweden has planned for the contest.  There's a nice indie pop feel to the song, which certainly((and confusingly)) worked in the favor of "Kedveshem" a few years ago, but this doesn't feel poised to reap the same rewards.

Frans' vocal performance is good (and close to how the song sounds on record), but I think he's not the best vocalist overall in the competition and he doesn't feel particularly suited to a big arena performance, which this is going to need to be.  I don't think Sweden is going to see the same nul points result Austria did on their home turf last year, but I think a two-peat is far from likely in this year's final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: France — Amir — J'ai Cherche Fri, 29 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 619ef53e-abab-46e2-9b4b-0ff04ad2f482 Could France's Amir and his song "J'ai Cherche" bring an upset to this year's Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: France
Song Title: "J'ai Cherche"
Artist: Amir
Last year's entry: "N'oubliez Pas" - Lisa Angell (25th Place)

The last time anyone thought France stood a chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest was back in 2011. I'm not sure why people overestimated "Sognu" to the degree that they did, particularly since it ended up as the midpoint in France's current downward slide down the leaderboard.

I expect that slide to end with this year's entry, "J'ai Cherche" by Amir.

I'm not sure how I feel about the editing down of "J'ai Cherche." I understand the song needed to get down to three minutes, but some of the air in the song has been taken away as a result. In Amir's favor, the absence of air raises the degree of difficulty((see Albania's 2012 entry or last year's "Grande Amore")) which could garner jury support.

What is most interesting about this entry: it is proving to be a real challenger to Russia. OGAE, the international fan community, currently has France at the top of its leaderboard, followed by Russia, Australia, Bulgaria, and Italy. OGAE isn't a metric that we use in our predictions, but the fact that France is in the conversation is a pleasant surprise. The bookies have also taken notice of this, with France currently the second favorite to win.

The main challenge for Amir will be running order position, which we won't know until after the semi-finals. Ideally, France would end up in the second half of the final, but "J'ai Cherche" could do well if it lands in the middle of the lineup. I fear France may be tempted to compete with what may be a bombastic performance from Russia, which would not serve Amir or "J'ai Cherche" well at all. Amir can't stand behind microphone for three minutes, but bouncing all over the stage won't work either. Perhaps if the performance borrows elements for Australia's performance from last year or Denmark's entry in 2014, we'll be saying "Bonjour, Europe" in 2017.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: United Kingdom — Joe & Jake — "You're Not Alone" Thu, 28 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 0731969f-9468-43c4-9a2d-3d9d143bb033 Their chances of winning may be slim, but Joe & Jake deserve better than last place at the Eurovision Grand Final.

Country: United Kingdom
Song Title: "You're Not Alone"
Artist: Joe & Jake
Last year's entry: "Still In Love With You" - Electro Velvet (24th Place)

In the recent history of the Eurovision song competition (and really since the instigation of a semi-final system), the Big 5 (or 6) have been consistently shunted at the bottom of the final rankings, with a few exceptions.  I'm not always sure this is fair - all of these nations send good entries, and whether it's the result of block voting or resentment, I'd argue they deserve to place higher on a more consistent basis.  Case in point: this year's UK entry.  Okay, so the Downton Abbey meets Rave Culture aspect of last year's "Still in Love With You" may have done more to sell frozen potato waffles than succeed in Vienna, but I thought it was enjoyable, and more importantly, fun.  After seeing internal selection fail, the UK opened it back up to the people, who selected Joe & Jake as their representative.  Does this deserve a better ranking than last year?

I don't think this is going to win the competition, but I'd argue it deserves to place at least in the top half of the finals.  Of all the "rock" entries in the competition, I think this is one of the most successful, because it fully embraces the pop nature of the contest rather than trying to get the contest to embrace a harder edge.  Coldplay-ish Britpop is a much better fit for the contest than what Montenegro is trying to bring, and would be more likely to make it through if this was trying to get through a semifinal.  More in Joe & Jake's favor is that they're really nailing the vocal harmonies in live performances, which is likely to score higher with the juries even if televoters shut them out of the voting on that end of things.

Presentation of the song is getting tighter since we first saw it - Joe & Jake are more similarly styled (which I wanted) while also retaining unique stage identities.  If I had a chance to suggest further tweaks, I'd want them to ditch the guitar (which isn't going to be mic'ed in Stockholm, anyways) and tighten up the choreography.  There's enough of a hint in the current staging that there is choreography, so these guys should be like a palatable, talented version of Jedward((I know, I know.  I can't believe I'm making this comparison either.) and be hitting their marks in sync to make it look purposeful.

They're not enough of a favorite to win the competition, but Joe & Jake certainly deserve better placement than last year's final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Spain — Barei — Say Yay! Thu, 28 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 5fdfcdfc-b70c-4df0-af24-8e326f66d9ba In which Barei tries to dance Spain to a respectable finish in Stockholm.

Country: Spain
Song Title: "Say Yay!"
Artist: Barei
Last year's entry: "Amanecer" - Edurne (21st Place)

Let me start by saying just how disappointed I was with Spain's finish last year. Amanecer was a great song, full of drama, and the performance had a great visual design. Unfortunately, Edurne's performance in the Grand Final was pitchy, and her voice just wasn't up to the task. Apparently, though, she's a big fan of this year's performer after serving on the jury that helped select her. Can Barei dance Spain to a better finish this year in Stockholm?

When I first listened to this song almost three months ago, I thought it had potential. Now, at the tail end of the Eurovision season, with so many other great songs in the contest and no changes having been made to "Say Yay," this gets skipped more frequently than not. ((I basically only listen to it when I'm in the shower and can't reach my phone to skip ahead.)) It's okay the first couple of times, but it's too repetitive to be a long-lasting favorite, and will be previewed in the same semifinal as Finland, which has a similar sound. As a group, we're pretty sure Finland won't make it to the Grand Final, which is good news for Spain! But it's also bad news, because the two songs are incredibly similar. If voters don't like one, they probably won't have high marks for the other.

Since the beginning of this month, Spain's odds have lengthened a bit, from 28 to 40:1. Those are still pretty great odds, considering the competition! Malta, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Australia, and Bulgaria all feature female soloists and will likely make the Grand Final. If we're judging in relative terms (and we are!), I'd put Spain at or near the bottom of the list. And that's not even taking into account the strong men in the competition -- Russia, Latvia, and Israel among them.  I just don't see where Spain's votes come from this year; I think Barei will do better than last year's 21st place, but not by much.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Italy — Francesca Michielin — No Degree of Separation Wed, 27 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 b839fe9b-fa44-4817-9112-6058cd1f916e If Francesca Michielin is going to create separation between Italy and the other countries featuring female soloists, she's got her work cut out for her.

Country: Italy
Song Title: "No Degree of Separation"
Artist: Francesca Michielin
Last year's entry: "Grande Amore" - Il Volo (3rd Place)

On the Viennese stage, the three young tenors of Il Volo brought Italy their fourth top-ten finish since returning to the competition five years ago. Many felt they should have won. In fact, Italy did win the televoting by quite a large margin, but ended up with the bronze medal thanks to a poor showing with the national juries. This year's representative, Francesca Michielin, did not reign supreme at Sanremo. As the runner-up, she was offered the opportunity to represent her country when Stadio backed out due to a previously-scheduled tour. Can she gain the degree of support she needs to win over both the juries and the televoters in Stockholm?

Thanks to their financial support of the contest, Italy automatically qualifies into the Grand Final each year, bypassing the preliminary rounds. So, this isn't an issue of whether we'll see them on the Grand Final stage, but how well they'll do once they get there. Automatically qualifying countries had a hard time last year; five of the six ended up in 21st place or worse, with two countries ended up with the dreaded nul points. Italy was the only AQ country to escape voters' wrath, but that was due to a strong entry sung by three handsome and charming young men.

Michielin has the latter going for her, but her song wasn't even the best in Italy, so I have a hard time understanding how they hope she'll be the best on the continent. Bookmakers have "No Degree of Separation" at solid 33:1 odds to win, the same odds as the Czech Republic, a song I feel is much stronger and will benefit from the repeated exposure to voters the semifinals bring. Thanks to new voting rules awarding points from the jury and televoters separately, Italy likely won't go home with nul points, but I don't see them breaking into the top half of the Grand Final, either. The competition, especially among female soloists, is fierce this year, and I'm skeptical Michielin will be able to separate herself from the crowd.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Germany — Jamie-Lee — Ghost Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 02f7a272-2468-4884-8d73-5ff303bab4d4 Will Jamie-Lee's Sailor Deutschland cosplay give Germany a "Ghost" of a chance at Eurovision?

Country: Germany
Song Title: "Ghost"
Artist: Jamie-Lee Kriewitz
Last year's entry: "Black Smoke" - Ann Sophie (26th Place (Tied with Nil Points))

When I first wrote about Germany's entry -- "Ghost" by Jamie-Lee -- it was based solely on audio and a lyrics video rather than the performance from Unser Lied fur Stockholm. Here's that performance, which is reportedly going to be close to what we will see in Stockholm:

Will Sailor Deutschland allow her country to improve from its disappointing((Embarrassing?)) finish in Vienna? I've warmed up to the song slightly since its selection, though it wouldn't be my first choice for a Eurovision Greatest Hits collection. If this song had to compete in the semi-finals, I could see it succeeding in the first semi-final, though it would probably be riding the bubble. I have a tough time imagining a scenario where Jamie-Lee could advance out of the second semi-final, with her look being the only thing to distinguish "Ghost" from Switzerland's "Last of Our Kind" or Slovenia's "Blue and Red."

So, if a song couldn't qualify out of both semi-finals, how does that translate to predicting success in the Final? I fear this may be more bad news for Germany, as the songs that are expected to advance have power, are a bit more uptempo, and aren't so dang passive in their storytelling. Even of the six autoqualifiers, "Ghost" lacks a sense of... fun isn't quite the word, but it's along those lines. If the songs were guests at a party, this one feels like the one hanging out by the punch bowl telling anyone within earshot about how bad its day was. Dressing like a pinata doesn't automatically bring the party vibe.

Does Germany have to worry about another nil score? Possibly. I don't see juries ranking this in their top 10, especially if the performance is based mostly in stage decor rather than active presentation. Even if viewers want a sad song to send votes to, Serbia, Ukraine, and Sweden have much more pop-friendly downers in the mix.

Sorry, Germany, but you have become a "Ghost" of your Eurovision self from the past few years.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Czech Republic — Gabriela Gunčíková — I Stand Tue, 26 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 a5bc417b-dc14-4cbf-bd66-12c23c816805 Can the Czech Republic take advantage of their post-Russian performance slot and make it to the Grand Final for the first time?

Country: Czech Republic
Song Title: "I Stand"
Artist: Gabriela Gunčíková
First Semi-Final: Position #10
Last year's entry: "Hope Never Dies" - Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta (DNQ - 13th Place, SF2)

Still a relative newcomer to the Eurovision Song Contest, the Czech Republic has only appeared four times, beginning in 2007. After their hopes died last year in the second semifinal, Gabriela Gunčíková is hoping to make a stand. Will 2016 be Czechia's year to push into the Grand Final for the first time?

Not much has changed about this entry since our last check-in, except that I LOVE IT SO MUCH now. Forget what I said about it being forgettable; it took me a little while to warm up to it, but now that I have it's been in constant rotation. Slowly gaining momentum with Eurovision voters could be a good thing -- you don't want your entry to peak too early and risk falling out of favor -- but it could also be a liability. With 43 songs in this year's contest, including nine female soloists in this semifinal alone, it's important to make a definitive mark before May rolls around.

Fortunately, it looks like the Czech Republic has done just that. In terms of YouTube views, "I Stand" is in the top ten for this semifinal -- no small feat for a country who's never made the Grand Final. Bookmakers are also bullish, with odds-to-win increasing from 40 to 33:1 in the last few weeks. That's even taking into account a potential huge problem: the Czech Republic performs right after juggernaut Russia.

If Russia lives up to expectations, it may be hard for this entry to stand up to the energy Sergey Lazarev generates. Or -- if Gunčíková can bring a more energetic and dramatic performance than the one allowed by the $20 budget of her embedded music video -- the two songs could come off as a pair of lovers singing to / about each other. (A little additional help from voting friends Malta, Croatia, and San Marino also wouldn't hurt.) I remain hopeful we'll get to see the Czech Republic stand onstage on both Tuesday and Saturday of Eurovision week.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Azerbaijan — Samra — "Miracle" Tue, 26 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 7d110bbf-2c6e-406a-9246-bc4a4601ad17 Does Azerbaijan need a "Miracle" from Samra to make it to the Grand Final this Eurovision?

Country: Azerbaijan
Song Title: "Miracle"
Artist: Samra
First Semi-Final: Position 14
Last year's entry: "Hour of the Wolf" - Elnur Huseynov (12th Place)

I tend to think of Azerbaijan as a Eurovision powerhouse, since they've never missed the finals since debuting in 2008, but lately that hasn't been as assured.  The last few years their final position in the contest hasn't been as high (placing 22nd in 2014) and they barely eked through to the final last year, coming 10th in their semifinal and 12th overall.  With Stockholm nearing in a few weeks, does "Miracle" have what it takes to get Azerbaijan out of their (comparative) slump?

There's been no changes to the song since we last heard it, which is fine - I didn't think it needed tweaking in my first listen and I don't think that now.  There's something about the song that doesn't feel totally original - I can't place the exact songs/singers this reminds me of, but this feels like well-trod lyrical territory.  The production is modern enough, and as this live video shows, Samra definitely has the chops to pull off a good rendition of the song live.

Azerbaijan is never shy in their staging, even for straighforward songs, so I'm expecting their usual sense of flash when it comes to what we'll see on stage.  This definitely feels like a song that could see pyrotechnics used.  Amongst bookmakers (an our own internal rankings), the song feels poised to easily break through to the final.  Looking at its neighbors in the performing order, Samra is performing between Estonia's "Play" and Montenegro's "Real Thing".  These songs all sound radically different from one another, so I don't think there's any chance of this harming Azerbaijan's ride to their 9th finals.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Bulgaria — Poli Genova — If Love Was a Crime Mon, 25 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 4a784d9a-88cc-4234-aeaa-cfb8799189f9 It would be a crime if Poli Genova's "If Love Was a Crime" didn't get Bulgaria to the Eurovision Song Contest final.

Country: Bulgaria
Song Title: "If Love Was a Crime"
Artist: Poli Genova
Second Semi-Final: Position 12((Originally 13, but shifted after Romania's disqualification))
Last year's entry: Did not compete

Bulgaria! I'm pretty sure if you ask me six months from now what my favorite song from this year's Eurovision Song Contest was, I would say "If Love Was a Crime" by Poli Genova with zero hesitation.

My love for this track has grown so much since last we chatted about it, and I was fully on-board with the song then. I had to be careful not to go full Lip Sync for Your Life while listening to it at work the other day. On my way to the coffee shop where I am writing this post, the song came up on my ESC 2016 playlist and I may have switched over to repeat mode until the walk was over. This might also be the video I have watched most on Eurovision's YouTube channel. The song is catchy, current, and fills me with the joys.

So, how will Poli Genova fare in the second semi-final? In terms of the field, there is the challenge of standing out among all the female soloists, including Serbia, Australia, and Ukraine. Romania's disqualification complicates this a touch, since that shifts the running order so that Poli Genova follows Dami Im and ManuElla, rather than getting the break that would have been provided by Ballet Westeros.

Another complication is that Bulgaria's main vote benefactors are either not competing (Turkey) or vote in the first semi-final (Greece, Cyprus, Spain). FYR Macedonia and Albania may be able to help as neighbors, but Western Europe and the former SSRs make up most of the rest of the field. Although Poli Genova received rave reviews for hosting last year's Junior Eurovision Song Contest, many of those participants (and therefore viewers) were from countries that are in the first semi-final.

The good news? Bulgaria may be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new split voting system. As long as Bulgaria doesn't overproduce the stage performance((The reason why I believe their last entry, 2013's "Samo Shampioni" crashed and burned)), I can see juries rewarding "If Love Was a Crime" for being a fully realized and executed song. If viewers don't forget the song from being buried in the lineup, there should be enough support to boost this entry.

All of Team telESCope's indicators -- oddsmakers, YouTube views, and our personal rankings -- point toward Poli Genova bringing Bulgaria to its second Eurovision final. It would be a crime if "If Love Was a Crime" didn't qualify.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Australia — Dami Im — "Sound of Silence" Mon, 25 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 7b2465ed-db2b-45a9-9588-efc2781f9a61 Is Dami Im a lock for the Eurovision final, or will Australia hear more than one "Sound of Silence"?

Country: Australia
Song Title: "Sound of Silence"
Artist: Dami Im
Second Semi-Final: Position 10
Last year's entry: "Tonight Again" - Guy Sebastian (5th Place)

Last year, Australia got their debut as a real live Eurovision competitor instead of just an interval act.  They had the benefit of an automatic bye to the final round((which, going forward, I hope gets extended to any other country making their very first appearance in the contest)).  Last year's entry, "Tonight Again", felt like it was pulling as much from current music trends (Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" in particular), and it got a warm reception and 5th place overall.  Now that there's no automatic placement, how does this year's entry fare now that all the other competitors have been revealed?

Australia hasn't made any changes to the song since it first debuted, but they were near the end of the deadline for countries to reveal their entries in the first place, so I didn't expect any last minute updates.  I'm always surprised by how far down in the rankings this song comes in my own rankings of the entries in the second semi-final; it's nice, but there are a lot of great entries alongside it that push it further down the list.  That said, it has a lot of factors going for it.  If Dami sounds this good in a tent, imagine how this will sound in an environment that's more ideally set up for a vocal performer.  Australia still has that new-kid vibe to them as well, which I'm pretty sure will guarantee them a berth in the finale.

Looking at the show lineup, Australia falls in between Lithuania and Slovenia.  "Sound of Silence" sounds a little closer to Danny Montell's mid-tempo douchestravaganza than Manuella's country-by-numbers, but I think it stands out enough amongst these to not be negatively affected.  Based on the song and this live performance, I'm expecting something pretty basic on stage in terms of performance.  If a lot of the solo female balladeers go for the same approach, it could affect all of them negatively.  Unlike the European nations, Australia also doesn't have any guaranteed neighbors to vote for them, making their #DamiArmy campaign a little head-scratching to me, since Aussies can't vote for themselves.  Still, who am I kidding?  Australia's still a favorite with the bookies to make the final, so we'll see how far they can rocket up the final scoreboard in Stockholm.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Lithuania — Donny Montell — I've Been Waiting for this Night Fri, 22 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 29189e91-b325-48ee-a6aa-dfdb255d1279 Will Donny Montell be able to give a solid enough performance to take "I've Been Waiting for This Night" to the Eurovision finals?

Country: Lithuania
Song Title: "I've Been Waiting for this Night"
Artist: Donny Montell
Second Semi-Final: Position #9
Last year's entry: "This Time" - Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila (18th Place)

I've been waiting for an opportunity to get enthusiastic about Lithuania's entry this year, but it just isn't happening. Here's Donny Montell's "I've Been Waiting for this Night":

Most of my concerns about the track being overproduced have not been addressed, as shown by there being zero changes to the song since I last wrote about it. There is video of a live performance from the Israel Calling event from a couple weeks ago:

Hmmmm. I'm not sure which is more off-putting: the pitchiness throughout the performance or the moves borrowed from Magic Mike.((Sorry, Donny Montell, but you're not Channing Tatum.))

The crowd is rather enthusiastic about this track, so that complicates the prediction as to whether this song will advance to the Eurovision final. As of this writing, "I've Been Waiting for this Night" is on the bubble with bookies, YouTube views, and the telESCope gang. Within its group of spiritual competitors — Denmark and Ireland — I think this is the stronger track, but I suspect there will be a lot of vote-splitting. Lithuania may have enough oomph from neighbors to push it into the final, but I suspect it is going to be close.

However, the performance(s) in Stockholm will need to be more on point than the one in Tel Aviv if Donny Montell wants to make his second trip to the Eurovision finals.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Poland — Michał Szpak — Color Of Your Life Fri, 22 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 dcf885f2-e738-48f1-9ed4-99cdceadc7c1 After last year's theme song for a WB show, Poland has opted for a "bad 80s soundtrack" aesthetic. Will it carry them back to the Grand Final?

Country: Poland
Song Title: "Color Of Your Life"
Artist: Michał Szpak
Second Semi-Final: Position #2
Last year's entry: "In The Name Of Love" - Monika Kuszyńska (23rd Place)

Poland has an uneven history at the Eurovision Song Contest. After finishing second in their first appearance in 1994, they've finished in the top ten only one other time, have failed to qualify for the grand Final on six occasions, and have chosen not to compete at all several other times. After a strong showing in 2014 followed by a stinker in 2015, how will Poland do this year in Stockholm?

Like many other countries, Poland has made no changes (that we know of) to their entry in the last few weeks. To be honest, I'm not sure there's much they could do with this song to make it substantially better. If the Eurovision Song Contest was a bad '80s movie, "Color Of Your Life" would be the soundtrack for a montage of a couple's longing for each other, or something equally melodramatic, and it would be the A-side of a cassette (with Switzerland on the B-side). In fact, that's exactly the order we're going to get on May 12th!((I swear to you, I wrote that before I checked the performance order for this semifinal.)) Latvia will open the second semifinal, followed by Poland, Switzerland, and Israel. Three of those four performances feature strong male leads. I think Latvia and Israel will make bigger impressions, which could leave Poland on the bubble.

That said: this country has a ton of friends voting in this semifinal. Ireland, Lithuania, Germany, and the Ukraine have long been good friends to the Polish((At least when it comes to Eurovision...)). Even if I don't care for this song, it's also held onto steady 33:1 odds over the last several weeks. That combination means I'm willing to accept the fact that Poland will probably show up in the Grand Final next month. On the upside? "Color Of Your Life" has the rare distinction of having not one but TWO key changes in the last ~30 seconds. It deserves (and will likely get) a little recognition, if not a top-ten finish, just for that.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Serbia — ZAA Sanja Vučić — "Goodbye (Shelter)" Thu, 21 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 0f2f7100-29e1-4c39-a706-23bb351ca1b4 Serbia seems poised to go all the way to the Eurovision finals with Sanja Vučić's "Goodbye (Shelter)".<!--more-->

Country: Serbia
Song Title: "Goodbye (Shelter)"
Artist: ZAA Sanja Vučić
Second Semi-Final: Position 6
Last year's entry: "Beauty Never Lies"  - Bojana Stamenov (10th Place)

The second Eurovision semi-final is packed with female solo singers (thanks to the luck of the draw when it came to choosing which pots ended up in with semi-final), so it's all about making performances unique.  When it comes to the actual songs, however, Serbia's got a winner with Sanja Vucic's "Goodbye (Shelter)".  Is that enough to give them an edge?

I think it does.  Serbia hasn't done anything to the song itself, which is good - I think it's one of the strongest in its semi-final and possibly the entire field this year.  Serbia also has the benefit of performing between Belarus and Ireland, two countries whose entries are...not as good this year, to be polite.  Sanja seems likely to shine with these neighbors as opening and following acts.  I'm expecting a performance structured similarly to their national final performance, which seems advisable - there's a power to their lyrics that's worth taking advantage of with simple staging.  Sanja's shown a wide variety of looks over the live performance circuit, so that's up in the air, but I think they have what it takes to easily sail through to the final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Greece — Argo — "Utopian Land" Thu, 21 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 69e961c2-a766-4b1f-826a-f884d47f633d Greece continues to plod their way to the Eurovision Semifinal 2 bubble with Argo's "Utopian Land"

Country: Greece
Song Title: "Utopian Land"
Artist: Argo
First Semi-Final: Position 2
Last year's entry: "One Last Breath" - Maria-Eleni Kyriakou (19th Place)

Ugh, Greece, y'all.  They are a stronghold in the competition, even when their entries aren't that great.  I thought last year's ballad, "One Last Breath", wasn't that great and seemed pitchy in pre-Contest performances, but it still clung to the bubble and made the finals, where it finished in 19th.  This year's song, "Utopian Land", seems even more bubble-prone.  Now that we're edging closer to the competition, is it looking any better?

Not only has Greece left this song the same, I can't find any live performances by Argo to compare this against and give a taste of what their live show might be like in Stockholm.  The only details I have for the performance is that they'll be replacing one of their vocalists with a dancer, which seems...ill-advised.

It really feels like Greece is banking on their general love from other countries in the contest to push them through this year - they're in the dreaded spot 2, between Finland and Moldova.  Going uptempo disco to dire dystopian utopia song to uptempo Eurodance number feels like a disservice to all three of those entries, who are all on the bubble.  I think Finland and Moldova may take more of a hit than Greece, but I'm secretly hoping Greece just misses the cut-off for the top 10 this year.  I'm expecting a pretty straightforward performance if it's just 5 band members and a dancer doing traditional dance, which may not grab points with the viewers.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Netherlands — Douwe Bob — Slow Down Wed, 20 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 f4949f22-fe8a-4da7-9eeb-cd08ab84e1a5 Will a return to Americana slow down the competition and get the Netherlands back to the Grand Final once more?

Country: Netherlands
Song Title: "Slow Down"
Artist: Douwe Bob
First Semi-Final: Position #6
Last year's entry: "Walk Along" - Trijntje Oosterhuis (DNQ - 14th Place, SF1)

After coming in second place in 2014 with the great "Calm After the Storm," the Netherlands are going back to that Americana well in an attempt to erase the memory of last year's dress debacle. (They're even building their own pop-up bar in downtown Stockholm.) Can Douwe Bob slow down the competition, either with his voice or with his drinks, and get the Netherlands back to the Grand Final once more?

I wasn't a fan of this song when it was first released, and I'm still not a fan today. This song just seems thin. The chorus is catchy, but gets tiresome pretty quickly, and seems to go on forever. Also, I still don't have any idea what it's about. On the upside, this is the better of two country-influenced songs in the competition. (Slovenia's in the other semifinal, so no one will confuse them during voting.) Douwe Bob will perform in between Croatia and Armenia, two female-fronted entries, and several slots ahead of the Russian juggernaut that is Sergey Lazarev. He shouldn't have a problem standing out from the pack. The question will be, will "Slow Down" be remembered fondly, or as a nuisance?

As much as this song bores me, I do think it'll advance as the result of lots of friendly Western European votes and several other obvious losers: Greece, San Marino, Montenegro, Moldova. (I still don't understand why people like this entry, but then I didn't like The Common Linnets either, so.) In any case, bookmakers have increased the Dutch odds from 66 to 40:1 in the past two weeks, perhaps partially as the result of the aforementioned favorable performance placement. The Netherlands will almost certainly not match their recent top-ten finishes. If he plays his cards right, though, Douwe Bob could work his way into the top half come the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Croatia — Nina Kraljić — Lighthouse Wed, 20 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 839b72dd-7c8b-4865-95ba-3f2e618f8265 Will Nina Kraljić's "Lighthouse" shine the way to Croatia's first Eurovision final visit in ten years?

Country: Croatia
Song Title: "Lighthouse"
Artist: Nina Kraljić
First Semi-Final: Position #5
Last year's entry: Did not compete

Croatia last competed at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013, deciding to take a break for budgetary reasons and because they have only advanced to the Final twice since 2007. The time off seems to have served Croatia well, as they have adopted the strategy of using an alum from their version of The Voice -- season 1 winner Nina Kraljić -- to represent the former Yugoslav state. Here is the updated version of the video for "Lighthouse":

I'm not sure why they abandoned the literal use of lighthouses for the video, but whatevs. This song has grown on me since my last review, and the slightly tweaked audio track has cleared up my concern about "Lighthouse" being overproduced. In fact, listening to Nina Kraljić's performance from the Eurovision in Concert event earlier this month has me excited about what we will see in Stockholm. She sounds incredible live, with a purity to her voice that the produced track has tempered for some reason.

I think Croatia is sitting pretty for finally getting to the Eurovision final. Along with the "welcome back" points that usually boost countries returning from hiatus, Croatia has lots of friends and neighbors in the first semi-final, including Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Malta.

Should Croatia advance to the final, it will be interesting to see if Nina Kraljić can navigate her way to the top ten. The bookies have Croatia ranked 12th overall, though that is behind Sweden and Spain (both of which I think are overvalued((YEAH I SAID IT))) and Latvia (which I fear may be under-appreciated). A strong stage performance could make the difference. Either way, welcome back to the party, Croatia!

First Listen: North Macedonia Reveals Kaliopi's "Dona" Tue, 19 Apr 2016 19:00:00 -0500 e344a21f-f267-4e3e-9ed6-f61665284953 Can Kaliopi bring FYR Macedonia back to the Eurovision finals with "Dona"?

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has a bit of bad luck when it comes to Eurovision entries.  Aside from 2012, no entry from the past eight years I've been watching has made it to the final stage.  I'd say that it has nothing to do with the entries they send, but it has a lot to do with the entries they send.  Macedonia seems to find new and interesting ways to trip over their own feet right before their semi-final and place themselves out of the running.  On the plus side, their entrant this year, Kaliopi, is their last entrant that made it to the finals in 2012.  Does she have what it takes to make it again in 2016 with "Dona"?

I wish this song had the same power as Kaliopi's last Eurovision entry, "Crno y Belo".  That song had an energy and punch to it that "Dona" lacks.  It's still a lovely song, but if there's too many ballads in its semifinal, I see this getting washed out amongst the pack.  Judging by the 2012 performance and this official video, I'd expect a pretty straightforward stage performance, which won't necessarily give this the extra oomph it needs to stand out amongst its competitors.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: San Marino — Serhat — "I Didn't Know" Tue, 19 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 223bccb7-77c1-41ee-8910-a68f8907e063 San Marino (and Serhat) are pulling a Eurovision joke on us, but it won't get them a win.

Country: San Marino
Song Title: "I Didn't Know"
Artist: Serhat
First Semi-Final: Position 8
Last year's entry: "Chain of Lights"  - Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini  (DNQ - 16th Place, SF2)

Okay, after sitting through 5 years of WTF entries from San Marino, I have a theory.  San Marino is a small island country((so small, I've joked that their selection process is deciding which of the 20 or so people who live there is going to represent them while the rest watch from home)).  They do not have the resources to host/provide a venue for a theoretical Eurovision that would be held there.  They do not want to host the ESC.  Therefore, they are seeing how ridiculous an entry they can send without getting called out on it.  They are trying to pull a Producers here.  As further evidence, the updated version of this year's entry, Serhat's "I Didn't Know":

Let's ignore for a moment that even though this is a "live" performance, this is clearly being lip-synced.  After releasing the initial version of the song((with its AMAZING monocle headstrap and crazy-ass video)), San Marino got a bunch of attention.  It was the wrong kind of attention, but attention is attention, so there you go.  San Marino interpreted this as "hey, everyone's looking at the disco remix of our terrible Eurovision song!  WE SHOULD MAKE THAT VERSION THE FINAL VERSION".  Which is how we now have this.  At least this live performance is not just the audio from the disco version (which sounds like you slapped the vocal track from the original version over "Disco Backbeat 7" in GarageBand) slapped over some previous Serhat performance like a piece of Dadaist performance art.

This was not a great song to begin with - Serhat's gravelly voice feels like a half-step up from when Rex Reed would talk-sing his way through My Fair Lady/Doctor Doolittle, and the lyrics are generic.  The disco instrumentation peps things up a bit, but also feels artificial and tacked on.  If this is a preview of the staging we'll see in Stockholm, San Marino seems to be taking the right tack, which is LOOK AT THE DANCING GIRLS!  This is a "Springtime for Hitler" situation, folks.  I think San Marino thinks if they make things bad enough, they will succeed.  However, as long as there's no monocle headstrap in the final performance, it gets nul points from this reviewer.((Please discard the fact that this reviewer lives in Boston and cannot, therefore, vote in the Eurovision semifinals.  MONOCLE HEADSTRAP FOREVER))

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Montenegro — Highway — The Real Thing Tue, 19 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 cf53706d-7198-4294-a133-04aa8d50f279 Montenegro's first two Grand Final appearances came in 2014 and 2015. Can they keep the momentum rolling in Stockholm?

Country: Montenegro
Song Title: "Real Thing"
Artist: Highway
First Semi-Final: Position #15
Last year's entry: "Adio (Goodbye)" - Knez (13th Place)

Montenegro has only qualified twice for the Grand final since it began participating as an independent state in 2007. Unfortunately, neither of those qualifications were in 2012 or 2013, two years in which I really appreciated their entries as the pinnacle of Eurovision kitsch. On the bright side, both of those Grand Final appearances have been the past two years, and last year's entry was legitimately good! Can Montenegro capitalize on the momentum in Stockholm?

This entry hasn't changed since it was first released, which is too bad BECAUSE IT'S TERRIBLE. For starters, Highway just does not play the kind of music that Eurovision fans appreciate; hard rock has won the contest before, but I think we can all agree that Lordi is the exception that proves the rule. Most of the team here actually ranks Montenegro as the worst song in the first semi-final, behind San Marino, who desperately added a disco track (!!!) to their entry to make it more palatable. But at least "I Didn't Know" is actually a song, and not just a collection of choruses, bridges, and hooks with a dancing woman to distract you. (Iceland tried that last year, and it didn't work out so well for them, either.)

Speaking of Iceland, they perform right after Montenegro, followed by Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Malta to close out the semifinal. Those three acts should be enough to help viewers forget about "The Real Thing." Even if it's not? Voting-wise, Armenia is really the only friend Montenegro has in this semifinal, and I predict the vast majority of their votes will be taken up by Russia. The only real question left for Montenegro is: will they end up in last place?

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Romania — Ovidiu Anton — "Moment of Silence" Mon, 18 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 fc7c45ad-293b-412f-a0cb-7cc353fa8819 If Romania makes it to Stockholm, will Ovidiu Anton's "Moment of Silence" make the finals?

Country: Romania
Song Title: "Moment of Silence"
Artist: Ovidiu Anton
Second Semi-Final: Position 12
Last year's entry: "De La Capat"  - Voltaj (15th Place)

Romania is usually one of my favorite nations to watch in the Eurovision Song Contest, because they know how to bring the drama.  Sure, last year's entry went for a different, more personal sort of drama, but you can always count on Romania to bring some sort of theatrics.  After selecting Ovidiu Anton to represent them in Stockholm with "Moment of Silence", let's take a moment to re-assess their chances of taking the crystal microphone from Sweden at this year's contest.

I enjoyed the staging this song was presented with in the Romanian National Final, but every subsequent live performance I've seen since then has been more and more...casually styled, for lack of a more elegant term.  Ovidiu certainly has the live vocals to pull the song off live, but I hope that by the time they get to Stockholm they're doing a little more than just showing up to perform with the backing track.  Then again, I hope they just get to the stage - it looks like Romania's having some money issues with the EBU and may not get to perform at all if they don't get that resolved in time.

Looking at the running order for semi-final 2, Romania is right after Slovenia and right before Bulgaria and Denmark.  The contrast between all of these entries seems like a potential benefit for Romania, whose dark and powerful ballad would stick out amongst the country and high-gloss pop, but could also sink them.  A dull performance that counterbalances the emotion of the song could also cause issues if and when they hit the stage.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Estonia — Jüri Pootsmann — Play Mon, 18 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 00b7f484-a445-43a4-9da9-ff289420d907 If the jury rewards Estonia's powerful songwriting for "Play", will that be enough to get Jüri Pootsmann to the Eurovision final?

Country: Estonia
Song Title: "Play"
Artist: Jüri Pootsmann
First Semi-Final: Position #13
Last year's entry: "Goodbye to Yesterday" - Elina Born & Stig Rasta (7th Place)

The Marcel Bezencon awards are a part of the Eurovision Song Contest that gets relegated to the behind the scenes coverage of the competition. The three awards highlight artistry, song composition, and the favorite of the press. Estonia's "Play", co-written by last year's rep Stig Rasta and performed by Jüri Pootsmann, should be in the running for the composition award:

Unfortunately, the Marcel Bezencon awards do not have much bearing on how a particular entry does at the Contest. Romania's 2008 entry won the composition award but finished in 20th. Last year's winner, Norway's "A Monster Like Me", finished in 8th. In fact, "Euphoria" is the only Contest winner to receive the honor of best composition.

I mention all of this because I am concerned there is not enough love for this song in the Eurovision fandom. The bookies have Estonia as 12th in the first semi-final while the video on Eurovision's YouTube channel is only at about 400,000 views.

Adding to the difficulty is Estonia's position in the running order. Jüri Pootsmann will follow the pleasant but sleepy entry from Austria, which may be a point where viewers get a beverage refill or use the restroom. Following in the lineup is Azerbaijan's power pop ballad, which sounds almost like a rebuttal to the thesis of "Play". Also, most of Estonia's best friends are not voting in this semi-final, with Sweden and Finland being the only (mostly) guaranteed points in a field dominated by the southern parts of Europe.

I still think this song is amazing and expect the juries to be equally enamored. But I fear the public vote might be an obstacle to Estonia getting a chance to "Play" in the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Russia — Sergey Lazarev — You Are the Only One Fri, 15 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 e48b4788-52b5-4d32-8113-1e6de9bba964 Sergey Lazarev's "You Are the Only One" is the current favorite to win Eurovision, but will people want to vote for Russia?

Country: Russia
Song Title: "You Are the Only One"
Artist: Sergey Lazarev
First Semi-Final: Position #9
Last year's entry: "A Million Voices" - Polina Gagarina (2nd Place)

You're not even reading this. You're either looking at the photo up there or watching this video for the dozenth time today. We're all friends here: let's watch Sergey Lazarev's video for "You Are the Only One" together:

Before you hit the replay button again, let's chat a bit about Russia and their Eurovision chances this year. Spoiler: they are quite good. I hesitate to say they have this locked up for a few reasons:

  1. Acknowledging this is the favorite and we should accept this pop music cold war between Sweden and Russia is super boring for our purposes here at telESCope.
  2. This is Russia we are talking about, which is still openly hostile toward the membership of a significant portion of the Eurovision fanbase. Is that fanbase willing to hold its nose while sending televotes Russia's way?
  3. Sergey Lazarev's health may be a concern. He needs a break before landing in Stockholm.

Despite these caveats, Russia's streak of finale appearances is in zero danger of ending. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Malta are the only real challengers Sergey Lazarev has in the semi-final. In the running order, Russia is between San Marino and Czech Republic, which seems almost cruel to those two countries. Even though there aren't a lot of former SSRs in this semi-final, it's not like Russia was ever here to make friends.

The final is where things will get tricky, particularly with televoters. Now that there is a new scoring system in place, Russia could feel the consequences of their anti-LGBT and other human rights stances. Is sex appeal and talent enough to get the communities who would not be welcome in Moscow or St. Petersburg to hold their noses and vote for Russia?

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Latvia — Justs — Heartbeat Fri, 15 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 a74fc9e6-b60a-473b-8efb-57845f57ffa9 My heart beats in deep appreciation for Latvia, but will Eurovision fans feel the same about Justs?

Country: Latvia
Song Title: "Heartbeat"
Artist: Justs
Second Semi-Final: Position #1
Last year's entry: "Love Injected" - Aminata (6th Place)

The first time I heard Love Injected, I fell instantly in love, and Aminata remained my favorite performer throughout the 2015 contest season. This year, it took me a little while longer to warm up to "Heartbeat" (also penned by Aminata). The Latvian contigent is obviously happy with the song, as they've not made any changes since the original release. Can Latvia make it to the finals, and potentially even bring the contest back to Riga?

First of all, I don't think there's any doubt Latvia will qualify easily out of the second semifinal. There's no one else in the contest who is writing songs quite like Aminata, which is partially what catapulted her so far up the leaderboard last year, and Justs has a great voice that perfectly fits this song. I'm not thrilled with his stage presence; at the recent Eurovision in Concert appearance, Justs was as physically awkward as ever. But the entire crowd knew "Heartbeat" and sang right along with him. That's a very good sign! It reminds me of the Grand Final in 2014, when it seemed like the entire arena was singing along with Conchita's choruses.((Rewatching that performance still gives me goosebumps.))

Although the odds for this song winning the contest have slipped a bit, Latvia is still a very strong contender not just to qualify, but to win the whole shebang. Russia is perhaps not as invincible as they once seemed; Ukraine is very strong but potentially working against a tight-knit voting block; Australia's song is good, but not that much better than last year's, and the novelty of their appearing is beginning to wear off; and after a string of finishes in the 20s, I'm still having a hard time believing anybody likes France that much.((#Sorrynotsorry)) I'll be looking for this song qualify high, and finish top-five.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Slovenia — ManuElla — Blue and Red Thu, 14 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 85ca6480-1ab4-46fc-8d46-0bd0e97a7d73 Slovenia is jumping on the Taylor Swift breakup bandwagon. Will Eurovision fans get on board, or will ManuElla be singing a different tune come May?

Country: Slovenia
Song Title: "Blue and Red"
Artist: ManuElla
Second Semi-Final: Position #11
Last year's entry: "Here For You" - Maraaya (14th Place)

After initially releasing their official video by replacing live performance audio with a studio-recorded track (something we've seen far too much of this year), Slovenia is one of the few entries so far to make actual changes to their song. The changes are pretty simple; they added some intro vocals and tweaked a note here or there throughout the choruses. I wasn't a big fan of this entry a few weeks ago; did these tweaks help at all?

I have a theory: the only reason the US will never be invited to join the Eurovision Song Contest is because Europeanish countries wouldn't be able to send these generic pop/country knock-off songs with impunity. To be clear, I am not against country as a genre in the contest! I'm just saying, if you're going to steal something, do it well. The Dutch entry from 2014 is a great example. I was too swept up in Conchita-mania to appreciate it then, but "Calm After the Storm" was a beautiful and haunting guitar-duet about conflict, heartache, and the open road. It absolutely nailed the genre.

Unfortunately Slovenia has not had as much success with "Blue and Red". This is pretty clearly a post-breakup song ("you feel blue and I am better") a la Taylor Swift. The problem is, it's not really a song -- just a collection of musical parts. It doesn't flow from section to section, and I don't even know what to say about the costume design choices we've seen so far.((I really just hope we don't get another DressGate scandal like last year.)) Worse, I have yet to see a live performance where she looks capable of commanding the stage. Her appearance at last weekend's "Eurovision in Concert" promotional event was just as awkward as the official video linked above.((#PleaseClap)) She's had over a month to work on that. If we haven't seen progress by this point, it's probably not going to happen.

The one thing this entry has going for it? The Netherlands and their better, or at least more popular, country tune are in the other semifinal! Even so, I have a feeling this entry will have a hard time qualifying. ManuElla sings between top-five contender Australia and the Game of Thrones rock opera soundtrack from Romania. Good luck to her trying to stick in people's minds between those! The oddsmakers seem to agree. In the last couple of weeks, Slovenia's odds have dropped from 250 to 300:1, scraping the bottom of the barrel with the likes of San Marino and Switzerland.((Seems like a bad year to be from a country starting with S.)) Unfortunately it seems like Eurovision will be breaking up with Slovenia this year, and not the other way around.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: North Macedonia — Kaliopi — "Dona" Thu, 14 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 5b6951c1-10c7-4c05-bf8e-a699b6e5396f Can North Macedonia (and Kaliopi) beat the odds against them and make the Eurovision final with "Dona"?

Country: North Macedonia
Song Title: "Dona"
Artist: Kaliopi
Second Semi-Final: Position 8
Last year's entry: "Autumn Leaves"  - Daniel Kajmakoski (DNQ - 15th Place, SF#)

North Macedonia is always in a tough spot when it comes to Eurovision.  As a smaller nation, they don't have the support of their negihbors to guarantee an entry will make the final, even when the performance is good.  And yet, when compared to countries in similar positions (San Marino and Montenegro, looking at you guys), North Macedonia at least seems to be trying to send something they think can make it through to the finals.  After hiring a former R&B group to be backup for their entry last year, they've gone back to the drawing board and sent the only singer who's cracked the finals, Kaliopi.  How does her entry this year, "Dona", stack up now that the running order is set?

I give this song massive points for completely being in a non-English language, but it's a bland ballad in a semi-final that's already pretty full of those.  Kaliopi definitely has stage presence (and the live vocals to pull this off), but I don't think it's enough to carry her through to the final this time.  As mentioned before, North Macedonia just doesn't have the support of its neighbors for something like this to make it through, and I can't picture for the staging for this getting too complex.

Looking at the song in the context of its semi-final ordering neighbors, Kaliopi is right between Ireland's "Sunlight" and Lithuania's "I've Been Waiting For This Night".  Both of those songs are more uptempo than the mid-range "Dona", which could either work in its favor (as something unique), or mean it gets completely washed out by the two more energetic numbers.  This song definitely feels like it's on the lower end of the bubble.  I wouldn't completely count it out (especially if it does well with the juries), but it has a big uphill climb if it wants to reach the Eurovision peak.

Eurovision Song Contest Second Semi-Final May 12, 2016

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Armenia — Iveta Mukuchyan — "LoveWave" Wed, 13 Apr 2016 14:00:00 -0500 f7b9852f-6647-486d-9a4f-10a1d1d26f99 Let's revisit Iveta Mukuchyan's entry for Armenia, "LoveWave", as the Eurovision final draws closer.

Country: Armenia
Song Title: "LoveWave"
Artist: Iveta Mukuchyan
First Semi-Final: Position 7
Last year's entry: "Face the Shadow"  - Genealogy (16th Place)

With a few exceptions (like last year's entry and the year they didn't participate because of the tensions with Azerbaijan when they hosted), Armenia tends to do well in the Eurovision song contest.  They also tend to be one of the more forward thinking nations - Aram MP3's "Not Alone" brought dubstep elements into the contest, and was a long-time favorite leading up to the final competition in 2014.  Is their entry this year, Iveta Mukuchyan's "LoveWave" of the same standard?

There's been no modification to this entry since it was first introduced, although I'm not sure any modification is really necessary on this.  Like "Not Alone", this feels like it's bringing in some modern pop elements to what could otherwise be a standard ballad.  I like that it feels like this has a non-traditional song structure, even if I find the song itself a little bland.  It's not my favorite entry this year, but I also feel that's likely my own personal taste rather than that of the populace as a whole.  Iveta's singing is great in the recorded version, but after Armenia pulled out of Eurovision in Concert, I have no live clips to compare against to verify this can sound just as good on an actual stage.

In their semifinal, Armenia is slotted between The Netherlands and San Marino, giving a bit of a whiplash as the first semifinal ping-pongs from genre to genre.  This feels like a weird pairing, but I place that mostly on San Marino's last-minute disco boogie switch-up - that's got to be hard to place alongside any pair of entries in the competition.  I think the difference of styles could help both the Netherlands and Iveta here, as they're not competing with similar songs to their direct neighbors.  Iveta also benefits from not being in the second semi-final, which is rife with female soloists with similarly-tempoed songs.  This one's definitely on the positive edge of the bubble for me, but stands a strong chance of making it through to the final if the live performance is good.

Eurovision 2016 Entry — Israel — Hovi Star — Made of Stars Wed, 13 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 461d5ea7-2f44-42a1-aeaa-c974e2001077 Will Israel's Rising Star Hovi Star be a Eurovision star in Stockholm with "Made of Stars?" #Star

Country: Israel
Song Title: "Made of Stars"
Artist: Hovi Star
Second Semi-Final: Position #4
Last year's entry: "Golden Boy" - Nadav Guedj (9th Place)

I know I don't have much influence when it comes to revising Eurovision entries, but I do tend to feel a sense of pride when an entry gets reworked in a way that matches my suggestions. Case in point: Hovi Star revamping "Made of Stars" to make it more pop relevant and less Eurovision-y:

Although this song doesn't quite scratch my itch of being distinctly Israeli, I do find the revamped version to be less generic than what came out of Rising Star. I think this arrangement is a better showcase of Hovi Star's vocals while including whispers of Adele's aesthetic mixed with pacing reminiscent of "Molitva."((seriously: "We are maaaaade of stars" is very similar to "Moooooooliiitva")) Australia's entry comes close to achieving the same style, but perhaps this is a sea change in the Contest in terms of ballad construction.

As for the rest of the competition in the second semi-final, Israel is in a good spot. Hovi Star will follow Switzerland's Rykka and precede IVAN from Belarus, and there is a clear winner in that group when it comes to vocals.((Advantage: Israel.)) Stage presence and performance will be more of a challenge. The first two-thirds of the song doesn't lend itself to a lot of physical movement and will probably rely heavily on lighting and display effects. There will need to be clever restraint in staging to maintain a contrast with whatever, um, "creativity" Belarus has in store for us.

I could see "Made of Stars" being a favorite for the juries. Hopefully the televoters will agree that the Eurovision final should be, in part, made of Hovi Star.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Moldova — Lidia Isac — Falling Stars Tue, 12 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 4ed89ead-2ff0-479a-8ca0-79b5c0cfe313 After several fun entries in the first half of this decade, followed by a couple of disastrous ones, Moldova hopes to right the ship with "Falling Stars."

Country: Moldova
Song Title: "Falling Stars"
Artist: Lidia Isac
First Semi-Final: Position #3
Last year's entry: "I Want Your Love" - Eduard Romanyuta (DNQ - 11th Place, SF1)

Moldova's 2010 entry remains a near-perfect example of what Eurovision is (or should be) about -- and not just because it spawned an internationally-recognized meme, Epic Sax Guy. For the next two years, they continued providing the sincere, unironic weirdness that helps make the annual song contest a joy. More recently, Moldova has hit a rough patch, finishing in complete last place in 2014 and failing to qualify for the Grand Final last year. By hitching their wagons to Lidia Isac, can they reach the stars once more?

I'm trying hard to like this song, but it's not compelling for me, and I can't quite pinpoint why. It's too generic and too mid-90s, I suppose, and even with a dance-break chorus, just seems flat. This song could also have real pitch problems. Although Isac did a pretty good job during her live national final performance, she's not completely nailing it. Perhaps an awesome visual design would help elevate this entry on the Eurovision stage, but between the national final and the official video embedded above, I'm not seeing much creativity or inspiration on that front either. After a fun start to the decade, it's sad to see Moldova sink into mediocrity, but here we are.

A bigger problem, perhaps, lies outside Moldova's control: they're in the first semifinal. The good news is that they'll perform right after Greece, an entry many of us believe to be near the bottom of this year's contest. The bad news? There are seven other female-fronted entries in this semifinal, almost all of which are better than Moldova and have the added benefit of performing later. Also, Russia (the overall favorite to win the contest) performs in this semifinal, and between them and other very strong entries (Estonia, Hungary), there may not be many spare votes available for the former Soviet republics.

The bookmakers are also skeptical of this entry; in the past weeks, odds to win have slipped from 250:1 to 300:1, tied with nine other countries for worst in the contest. I'm not sure the song is THAT bad, just mediocre. I do agree, however, that if it qualifies out of this semifinal, it will do so by the skin of its teeth and end up near the bottom of the pile.

Eurovision 2016 Entry — Hungary — Freddie — Pioneer Tue, 12 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 215fa8d7-ccf8-4565-b5c3-5649d50acb88 Is Hungary ambivalent about their Eurovision entry "Pioneer" by Freddie? If so, will that sink its chances for success in Stockholm?

Country: Hungary
Song Title: "Pioneer"
Artist: Freddie
First Semi-Final: Position #4
Last year's entry: "Wars for Nothing" - Boggie (20th Place)

I'm concerned about Hungary, y'all. Although the country has had quite a bit of success since returning to the Contest in 2011 after a brief hiatus, there just doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm surrounding "Pioneer" by Freddie. There's no official video((Yet?)), so rather than link to the Hungarian final video again we should watch this live performance from a couple weeks ago:

Oh, honey. This would be like the winner of The Voice or American Idol performing at your high school's charity car wash two weeks after the finale. Perhaps it is a prestigious spa Freddie is performing at in the video above, but it hardly screams Eurovision Promotional Tour. The lukewarm response from the crowd doesn't bode well either. The "please clap" gesture during the chorus being met with half-hearted (and not on beat) participation is difficult to watch.

What this and other videos of Freddie's Hungarian tour suggest is a lack of gravitas from the performer. Yes, there is "teh pretty"((So pretty...)), but that only goes so far when Russia is also trying to corner that market. Freddie also has the challenge of being followed by Croatia's Nina Kraljic in the first Eurovision semi-final, whose song is borrowing just as much from Ireland's playbook as Freddie's stage performance did at the Hungarian final.

If we were just evaluating the song, I think "Pioneer" is a solid piece of work. However, as a Eurovision entry, Freddie is definitely on the bubble for advancing to the final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Norway — Agnete — "Icebreaker" Mon, 11 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 22be9db0-05aa-492b-8623-bdd246c532ba Semifinal 2 is packed with solo female performances - can Agnete break through to the final for Norway with "Icebreaker"?

Country: Norway
Song Title: "Icebreaker"
Artist: Agnete
Second Semi-Final: Position 16
Last year's entry: "A Monster Like Me" -Mørland & Debrah Scarlett (8th Place)

Norway has been pretty consistent since winning the competition in 2009, only missing the finals in 2011((which I still argue was a miss on the audience's part)) and missing the final top 10 once in the past five years((Tooji's "Stay", which I fully agree on rating low)).  Recently, they seem to be stuck at #8 - both Carl Epsen's "Silent Storm" and last year's "A Monster Like Me" ended the competition in that position.  Is Agnete's "Icebreaker" what's needed to break through to another win (or at least the top 5)?

I can't detect any changes to the song structure or the mix, but the tempo difference between the verses and chorus feels smoother than when I first heard the song, which is a plus.  I'm still digging the charming literalism of the lyrics((write what you know, and if you know the difficulties of the shipping industry in Norwegian waters...))) as well.  If there's one thing I can criticism of the song, it's that like Moldova's entry, it feels a little by-the-numbers for Eurovision.  The stuff that truly excites me tends to be entries that build on that and push it to new places at the same time.

Staging-wise, I like what they're doing with this.  It has the same level of presence that previous winners like "Euphoria" and "Heroes" have had, even if it does seem to be copying them more directly that it should.  Agnete's live vocals seem competent, so I don't foresee any problems in winning over juries or televoters.  As far as the lineup (which we now have!), "Icebreaker" is coming right after Ukraine's "1944" (which has some strong supporters over here) and right before Georgia's "Midnight Gold".  This seems fine to me - Ukraine's entry is a bit stronger, but both this and "1944" seem like they'll outshine Georgia((Sorry, Georgia, but not really.)).  There's a lot of solo female performances in this semi-final, but I think "Icebreaker" has what it takes to break through the pack and secure a spot in the finals.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Cyprus — Minus One — Alter Ego Mon, 11 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 db073cc9-cc38-4749-94f2-09214b30197b Could "Alter Ego" by Minus One allow Cyprus to sneak into the Eurovision top 10?

Country: Cyprus
Song Title: "Alter Ego"
Artist: Minus One
First Semi-Final: Position #11
Last year's entry: "One Thing I Should Have Done" - John Karayiannis (22nd Place)

As expected, Cyprus and Minus One hasn't done much tweaking to their rock track "Alter Ego" since debuting a little over a month ago. The good news: the track doesn't need that much tweaking anyway:

I have to keep reminding myself every time I hear the first few notes that this is not a track from The Killers, but that favorable comparison reminds me that I am about to hear a radio friendly, accessible pop rock track. There are a surprising number of rock bands at this year's Eurovision Song Contest((I consider "more than one" surprising.)) and I think Minus One will be the most accepted out of the bunch.

Cyprus will appear in the running order between the Czech Republic and Austria, which is an interesting juxtaposition. The edge of the Czech track should carry through in Cyprus's performance while transitioning to the pop sensibility of Austria's selection. I think the transition may be a challenge for Austria, but Cyprus seems to be tasked with jumpstarting the second half of the first semi-final which could help keep "Loin d'ici" from lulling people to sleep.

Success for Cyprus will likely depend on stage performance. If it is just Minus One standing around and rocking out, that has the potential to underwhelm. Not to keep comparing this track to Turkey's 2010 entry, but Cyprus could use whatever the 2016 equivalent of a grinder girl would be to provide a visual kick that mere pyrotechnics can't provide.

I think this entry stands a good chance of advancing to the final((Thanks, 12 points from Greece!)) and could sneak in to the top 10 if there is a glut of female soloists advancing from both semis.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Ukraine — Jamala — 1944 Fri, 08 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 b3c71c8f-5386-49c8-857b-fe1491d957b2 After taking a year off from the contest, Ukraine returns with Jamala's geopolitically controversial song. How will they fare against overwhelming favorite Russia?

Country: Ukraine
Song Title: "1944"
Artist: Jamala
Second Semi-Final: Position #15
Last year's entry: Did not compete

The last time we saw Ukraine at the contest in 2014, they brought a hamster wheel((Not to be confused with #TwerpyHamsterDate)) and a great song from Mariya Yaremchuk. At the time, the country was in the middle of dealing with some stuff((Y'know, NBD, just Russia making a land grab because WHAT COULD GO WRONG. Don't answer that.)) and decided to take a year off. They're back, with a song ... about genocide at the hands of the Soviets? Well, I guess it's not really a contest until someone has ticked off Russia. It is any good, at least?

Much like last year's Latvian entry, I have loved this song and its distinctiveness from the moment I heard it. Jamala is an accomplished jazz, soul, and R&B singer with an incredible voice, and this song has a number of musical elements that locate it geographically and culturally (as opposed to, for example, Switzerland, whose song is generic as can be). Dig just a little deeper, and "1944" recounts a very specific story: Jamala's great-grandmother was one of the hundreds of thousands of Tatars deported from Crimea by Stalin near the end of World War II, a moment in history that has recently been recognized as genocide by the Ukrainian Parliament. I was sure that this would force the EBU to disqualify the song, and Russia did protest, but the EBU cleared the entry of any potential rule violations.

So, here we are, with Ukraine sitting in the top five on the bookmakers' charts. The second semi-final is full of female-fronted acts (10 of them!), but Jamala will have no problem standing out of the crowd. Her closest competitors are shaping up to be Australia and Latvia, but with a strong performance record and Russia in the other round, Jamala should qualify as either the winner or runner-up from this semifinal. The real question here is: can Jamala, or anyone, take down Sergey Lazarev in the Grand Final? I don't think so, but it'll sure be fun to watch her try.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Finland — Sandhja — "Sing It Away" Fri, 08 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 1bcf78ef-99ea-4c7f-a1b8-6583fb294a31 Sandhja can certainly rise above Finland's last place Eurovision performance from last year, but can she make the finals?

Country: Finland
Song Title: "Sing It Away"
Artist: Sandhja
First Semi-Final: Position #1
Last year's entry: "Aina Mun Pitaa" - Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (DNQ - 16th Place, SF1)

It feels like Finland has nowhere to go but up this year - last year's entry, Pertti Kuikan Nimipaivat's "Aina Mun Pitaa" was a complete dud in Vienna, placing last in its semifinal. Sending a punk act was innovative, but definitely felt a bit too left-field to make the final stage successfully. This year, the first semi-final has more competitors fighting for 10 slots - does Sandhja's "Sing It Away" have what it takes to take all the way to Saturday?

This is another entry this Eurovision season that I really liked upon first hearing it in Finland's national final, but which has waned in continued listens. There are a lot of elements to the song that I react positively to (positive message, disco-brass at the chorus), but they never quite gel into a coherent whole that's greater than the sum of those parts. Finland hasn't really done anything to tweak the song since it's introduction earlier this year, so we'll see if the song is enough to sway the judging panels.

I feel the same way about Sandhja's live performance and staging as I do about the song itself. There are a lot of elements going on at once - backing singers, Sandhja's general style, and a DJ who is somehow necessary.  Nothing quite goes with each other - the backing singers feel ready for a much more formal performance compared to Sandhja's edgy look, and I'm not entirely sold on why there's a DJ((if my previous description of him was any indication)) at all. Her live vocals are also a bit pitchy - there's some vocal gymnastics going on throughout the song, but the live performance doesn't quite rise to meet the standard set by the studio recording.

This one's definitely on the bubble for me. In a night with strong live performances, televoting could sway this over the edge, but it could also just miss the big stage if juries aren't overly enthused either.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Georgia — Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz — Midnight Gold Thu, 07 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 a06d29b7-1634-4d81-8d25-c42426562c51 Last year Georgia almost "oximated" its way to a top-ten finish. In 2016, can they sex, drug, and rock-n-roll back to the Grand Final?

Country: Georgia
Song Title: "Midnight Gold"
Artist: Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz
Second Semi-Final: Position #17
Last year's entry: "Warrior" - Nina Sublatti (11th Place)

Georgia's had a rough few years at the contest, led by a couple of inexplicably bad entries, even by Eurovision standards, in 2012 and 2014. Two years later and I still can't explain what's happening in the 2014 entry, except to echo Mike's description of it as a "college dorm jam session" and explain that yes, it did end up in dead-last place. Can they snap the even-year losing streak and return to the Grand Final stage?

In the past few weeks, Georgia has made a single change to this song: cutting about 15 seconds to get under the three-minute time limit. As I predicted, they nixed the guitar distortion solo (conveniently clocked at about 15 seconds), leaving the rest of the song intact and unchanged. For me, that's great. I enjoy the rock/alt-rock sound, including the guitar distortion, which we don't often see at Eurovision. I'm also relieved that their live performance is more compelling than the weird kid-toys official version embedded above. It's a song about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. What's not to like? Seriously though, "Midnight Gold" is the most-disagreed upon song here at telESCope. In our initial round of rankings, one person had it near the top, while another had it at the very bottom of this semifinal.((The third writer had it near the midpoint, because that's apparently how we roll.))

I have a feeling Eurovision voters will have a similarly split reaction -- either they'll love it, or they'll hate it, with not much in between. On the one hand, Russia's presence in the other semifinal means the former Soviet Socialist Republic countries in this round will be looking for someone to give their votes, and it probably won't be the Ukraine. On the other hand, Georgia's only got two reliable friends voting in this semifinal, and anything that causes further division only makes it worse. The bookmakers seem to agree, with Georgia facing the toughest odds of the contest at 300:1 to win. For context, that level of certain failure is matched only by San Marino, who hilariously (and probably correctly) decided that a disco track would make their entry better. I like "Midnight Gold" and will be pleased if Georgia can make it through, but realistically expect they'll end up somewhere in the teens of the second semifinal, failing to qualify by at least a couple of spots.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Denmark — Lighthouse X — "Soldiers of Love" Thu, 07 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 4f0020ca-f0e8-4f8b-87d8-185284bc4cda Do Lighthouse X have what it takes to fight for the Eurovision final with "Soldiers of Love"?

Country: Denmark
Song Title: "Soldiers of Love"
Artist: Lighthouse X
Second Semi-Final: Position #14
Last year's entry: "The Way You Are" - Anti Social Media (DNQ - 13th Place, SF1)

Denmark's been pretty good about mixing Eurovision-cheese with pop songwriting acumen to regularly produce great Eurovision entries.  Which is why their last few entries feel like a disappointment:

Nothing against Denmark or Lighthouse X, but this gets more dated every time I listen to it.  After last year's "boy band with a cheesy pop song" entry failed to qualify, I'm surprised the Danes chose this as their representative.  I love a good cheesy pop song, but this is just sort of middle-of-the-road, Backstreet Boys reunion level stuff.

If I had any suggestions on how to improve this, I'd want Denmark to lean all in with the "Soldiers of Love" thing.  Military-esque outfits for Lighthouse X, etc.  Give it the full "YVAN EHT NIAJ" treatment.  Given the lineup of the second semi-final, Lighthouse X stands out simply by not being a female solo singer, but I'm not sure that's enough to carry them this time around.  This one seems like an easy "just misses the Eurovision final" pick for me.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Iceland — Greta Salome — "Hear Them Calling" Wed, 06 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 4eb3ac82-84e6-4b61-b3d0-492231d535b3 Can Greta Salome get Iceland back into the Eurovision Grand Final with "Hear Them Calling"?

Country: Iceland
Song Title: "Hear Them Calling"
Artist: Greta Salome
First Semi-Final: Position #16
Last year's entry: "Unbroken" - Maria Olafs (DNQ - 15th Place, SF2)

The first semi-final of this year's Eurovision Song Contest is packed with some early favorites (like Russia and Estonia), but there's still plenty of room for other entries to make it through to the final.  Does Greta Salome's "Hear Them Calling" have what it takes to make it through?

Iceland hasn't really done anything with this song since it won the national final, and I think that's a good thing.  There's a unique drama to the instrumentation of the song that stands out from the rest of the pack, which can only be a good thing.  Greta's live vocals are a little weaker than the studio version, but in fairness, she's doing a lot of choreography on stage at the same time.  If I had one thing I'd change about the song itself, I'd make it a hybrid English/Icelandic version (like Pollaponk did with their entry a few years ago) since the English lyrics are a little...dopey, to put it nicely.

That said, this is one case where I'm actively hoping for a completely different stage presentation than what we've already seen.  Greta's black fringe-y number is pretty awesome, but the whole "interact with background graphics" feels like a rip-off of the previous winner, especially because Greta's not quite nailing her marks every time.  There's got to be a way to give the same drama on stage in Stockholm without needing perfectly nailed positioning.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Bosnia & Herzegovina — Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala — Ljubav Je Wed, 06 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 4733637a-b442-4c84-85ee-4b89ac6237e8 Could Bosnia & Herzegovina's earworm "Ljubav Je" be a contender at this year's Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: Bosnia & Herzegovina
Song Title: "Ljubav Je" ("Love Is")
Artist: Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala
First Semi-Final: Position #17
Last year's entry: Did not compete

Not much has changed since I last checked in with Bosnia & Herzegovina's entry "Ljubav Je" other than the song has really grown on me. Although I stand by my previous comments that the rock and rap elements make this entry a tougher sell, I think the argument could be made that Bosnia & Herzegovina are attempting (and achieving) a higher degree of difficulty. Let's take another listen:

There are a number of factors working in Bosnia & Herzegovina's favor with this entry. First, they are in a semi-final with lots of friends and neighbors. Add those points to the "welcome back" points that often accompany an entry from a country that has been on hiatus and "Ljubav Je" should rocket up the scoreboard.

Second, this entry is one of only three this year that is entirely non-English. I don't see this as a barrier, as a quality song should be able to communicate its thesis regardless of language. If you look at the number of YouTube views this song has (more than 1.7 million as of this writing), it must be reaching people who do not speak Bosnian.

The mixing of styles in this track also has its benefits. There is a lot of earworm potential, from the strings provided by Ana Rucner, the fast delivery from Jala, and the chorus from Dalal & Deen. I think this song will play well with others as running orders are determined, allowing what precedes and follows "Ljubav Je" to shine.

My concern about the performance is going to be staging. In my last writeup, the separation of the performers may have been what gave me the initial feeling of this track coming across as two or three songs slapped together. This is not a request for pyrotechnics, but I think Bosnia & Herzegovina would benefit from maximizing the horizontal space of the stage and including movement within the performance. This may be a departure from Bosnia & Herzegovina's typical staging, as their last three entries((Going back to 2010, y'all.)) featured musicians using their instruments.

Welcome back to Eurovision, Bosnia & Herzegovina. I'm excited to see what you do.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Switzerland — Rykka — The Last of Our Kind Tue, 05 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 77175917-c45f-469d-846b-e35345d0afb1 Switzerland finished in absolute last place in 2015's Eurovision Song Contest. Will "The Last of Our Kind" by Rykka bring about a better outcome?

Country: Switzerland
Song Title: "The Last of Our Kind"
Artist: Rykka
Second Semi-Final: Position #3
Last year's entry: "Time to Shine" - Melanie Rene (DNQ - 17th Place, SF2, Absolute Last Place)

The second semi-final has shaped up to be the tougher of the two for bubble entries to advance to the Eurovision Song Contest. Switzerland's entry "The Last of Our Kind" by Rykka will be one of those entries slugging it out for a chance to advance:

First off, it's a disservice to everyone involved that the above video has the studio version of the song dubbed over Rykka's actual performance.((Don't believe me? The original performance is here.)) That performance was rocky and if Switzerland can't be arsed to put together a real music video (or use the one from their submission process), that should be put on display.

These preferences aside, Switzerland is going to have a very difficult time advancing. The second semi-final is chock full of solo female singers -- ten to be exact, counting Rykka. Her voice is not the strongest of that group, which means the song will need to help in convincing televoters and juries to vote for Switzerland. Unfortunately, the song hasn't improved over time and still doesn't really go anywhere.

That leaves the stage performance as the only way to stand out. Again, the song does not lend itself to anything more dynamic than what we saw in Switzerland's national final. Also, if Rykka's vocals have not improved significantly, moving around the stage will not be to her benefit. I'm not sure if there is anything that can be done to salvage this entry.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Austria — ZOË — Loin d'ici Tue, 05 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 185c9a3f-cf6a-4c97-b78c-bd1d72ebc7c0 Does ZOË's sugar-coated poptimism have enough energy to get Austria into the Grand Final?

Country: Austria
Song Title: "Loin d'ici"
Artist: ZOË
First Semi-Final: Position #12
Last year's entry: "I Am Yours" - The Makemakes (26th Place)

After unexpectedly winning the 2014 contest with "Rise Like a Phoenix," Austria did what any good host does and left all of the points for its guests in 2015 -- all of its guests except for Germany, that is. The two neighboring (and auto-qualifying) nations ended up at the bottom of the pile with the dreaded nul points, a result that may have in part led to this year's voting rule change. Now that jury and televoting results will award points separately, can ZOË help Austria rise from the ashes once more?

Austria is one of several countries who have made basically no changes to their entry since the original selection, but even in that context, I find the parity in ZOË's voice between the official video embedded above and the live national final performance to be truly amazing. Otherwise good entries are frequently sunk by pitchiness or other vocal issues where the singer simply can't replicate live the same kind of performance they recorded in the studio.((Off the top of my head, I can name Azerbaijan and Malta from 2015.)) ZOË's live performance has only a couple of slight vocal missteps; given she's wearing a long flowing dress and trying to walk on a treadmill that keeps starting and stopping, that's about as close to perfect as we have any right to expect.

Overall, this is a solid entry that stands out for its sugar-coated optimism, something frequently lacking at Eurovision. There's a reason for that, though; songs where "everything is awesome! all the time!" tend to feel shallow upon repeated listening. To make matters worse, the chorus of "Loin d'ici" makes up more than two-thirds of the song. Listening to it once or twice, these issues aren't that big a deal. But the Eurovision audience is hearing many of these songs over and over in advance of the contest, and juries stacked with music-industry professionals tend to be savvy about rewarding well-constructed (if not popular) songs.

In a semi-final featuring big favorite Russia and strong contender Estonia, there won't be many 12 or 10-point awards left to go around, and of the pop songs in this group, Azerbaijan's is better. In the end, I expect this will be a song on the edge of qualifying; if French viewers reward it highly for being the only song completely in French, with an additional strong showing of support from Spain and Sweden, ZOË might have a chance to slip into the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Ireland — Nicky Byrne — Sunlight Mon, 04 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 9ca3f5cc-77bc-46cf-b2ac-eac8b308a395 Ireland's Nicky Byrne hasn't tweaked "Sunlight" since it debuted -- could that be a strategic misstep in this year's Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: Ireland
Song Title: "Sunlight"
Artist: Nicky Byrne
Second Semi-Final: Position #7
Last year's entry: "Playing with Numbers" - Molly Sterling (DNQ - 12th Place, SF2)

Not much has changed with Ireland's entry since I last wrote about it. Seriously: we have the same video of "Sunlight" by Nicky Byrne with what appears to be zero revamping:

The only thing that has changed for Ireland's entry is knowing that it landed in the first half of the second semi-final and the other entries it will compete with on May 12. Unfortunately, the luck of the Irish did not extend to this semi-final allocation. In terms of song genre, Nicky Byrne will be battling against Denmark's boyband (whose entry I find similarly bland) and Lithuania's own heartfelt heartthrob anthem. Slovenia's entry also shares some similarities in terms of style and tempo, which means there could be a lot of vote splitting within what I suspect may be a smaller audience within the Eurovision populace.

Ireland's other problem: there are a lot of heavy hitters in this semi-final. Serbia and Ukraine are practically guaranteed to advance, Romania has never missed a final, and Australia and Bulgaria have great songs and the appeal of being newish participants.((Bulgaria is back from a two-year hiatus.)) Belgium and Poland also look to be in good shape, which would mean there are only three spots left if those seven advance. That's not a lot of wiggle room on the bubble.

There are entries that, while maybe not better songs, have the potential to be more interesting than a guy singing with a band behind him. Although Nicky Byrne did work the national final circuit and seems like a nice, polite gentleman, I just don't see that translating to overwhelming support from juries or televoters. Right now his biggest advantage is that Australia and the United Kingdom vote in this semi-final, but that may only save Ireland from a last place finish.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Belarus — IVAN — Help You Fly Mon, 04 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 0b9786ef-911d-48b0-a77f-0504688dfb58 Belarus wants to run with the pack into the Grand Final. Can IVAN get them there?

Country: Belarus
Song Title: "Help You Fly"
Artist: IVAN
Second Semi-Final: Position #5
Last year's entry: "Time" - Uzari and Maimuna (DNQ - 12th Place, SF1)

In 2014, Belarus finished fifth in its semifinal and advanced to the Grand Final with a song we lovingly((Is it really loving, though?)) refer to as #TwerpyHamsterDate, thanks to some poorly-chosen (and poorly enunciated) lyrics. The next year, the violin-and-voice duo behind "Time" missed the Grand Final by two spots. In retrospect, both of these results were pretty inexplicable. Will this year produce results for the Belarusians that make sense?

I noted earlier this year that "Help You Fly" is not a bad song -- just a mediocre one, with a mediocre performance. Belarus apparently decided that they could only work on one of those two issues; instead of fixing (or doing anything, actually) to the song, they're ramping up the weirdness of their staging in an attempt to distract viewers. As reported last week by SBS, the Belarusian contingent is moving forward with a plan (possibly NSFW) that includes 1) IVAN being completely naked onstage 2) with wolves.((I hope I don't have to point out how really terrible an idea is it to be naked onstage with live animals, but please do check out the (NSFW) video in the previous link if you have any doubt.)) The Eurovision Song Contest rules clearly state that live animals are not allowed onstage, so it's a near certainty that piece of the plan won't pan out. But the rules don't appear to directly address the issue of nudity. I predict there may be a loincloth compromise, with either digital wolves or perhaps some form of puppetry.

Either way: when a country has to plan on breaking the rules this blatantly to be noticed at Eurovision, it's a pretty sure sign they don't stand a chance. It doesn't help that Belarus is in the first half of the second semifinal, in the midst of a number of strong entries. On the other hand, none of those nearby entries have the same angsty rock/pop feel, three of Belarus' five best ESC buddies (Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania) are also in the second semifinal, and bookmakers have the odds set at a reasonable 200:1. For perspective, those are better odds than a dozen other countries, none of whom are resorting to live animals onstage.

While this is an entry that absolutely should not qualify for the Grand Final, we've seen that anything can happen for Belarus, and perhaps will. This will be an entry I'll watch with interest on Thursday of the contest week with the hope that it won't reappear on Saturday ... but I wouldn't bet on that happening.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Albania — Eneda Tarifa — Fairytale Fri, 01 Apr 2016 11:00:00 -0500 ebc055db-678f-4de5-998e-4a4853f4c870 Albania was the first to select for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. Will the revamped "Fairytale" by Eneda Tarifa lead the country to its second final in a row?

Country: Albania
Song Title: "Fairytale"
Artist: Eneda Tarifa
Second Semi-Final: Position #18
Last year's entry: "I'm Alive" - Elhaida Dani (16th Place (Tie))

Albania bounced back last year by appearing in its first Eurovision Song Contest final since 2012. The country puts itself at a slight disadvantage every year by selecting the winner of the Festivali e Kenegs competition (which is held in December), but they do take advantage of the long lead time to make adjustments to their entries. How did this year's entry -- "Fairytale" by Eneda Tarifa -- fare?

One of the reasons I enjoy Albania's presence in the Contest: they make things delightfully tricky to prognosticate. As I mentioned way back when this song was initially selected, I got a whiff of Norway's 2013 entry "I Feed You My Love" and that aroma has not gone away. I don't think "Fairytale" is nearly as aggressive as Norway's song, which is part of the reason I find this entry much more pleasant to listen to.

I think it's poor strategy to give the song the same name as a former (and extremely popular) Eurovision winner, particularly when the word "Fairytale" doesn't appear in the song. The lyrical simplicity could also be a stumbling block where the juries are concerned, though I do enjoy Tarifa's vocals. If Albania can translate the artsy aesthetic from the video to the stage, this could be a compelling performance that may entice televoters.

However, there are a lot of female singers in the second semi-final, and Tarifa could get drowned out by the more powerful voices. Australia and Serbia will not be pulling their punches, nor will Ukraine's Jamala, who could also present a challenge on artistry. This is going to be a tough semi-final for Albania to advance from. Here's hoping for a fairytale ending.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Belgium — Laura Tesoro — What's the Pressure Fri, 01 Apr 2016 05:00:00 -0500 4f3757c2-479b-4141-9cba-514fa2d42702 Can Laura Tesoro build on a strong 2015 for Belgium and put pressure on the frontrunners?<!--more-->

Country: Belgium
Song Title: "What's the Pressure"
Artist: Laura Tesoro
Second Semi-Final: Position #19
Last year's entry: "Rhythm Inside" - Loïc Nottet (4th Place)

In 2015, a 19-year-old dancer/singer spun his way to Belgium's best Eurovision finish in over a decade. Recognizing that youth sells, the Belgians are once again sending a dual-threat; this time it's actress/singer 19-year-old Laura Tesoro, known to her countrymen for appearances in soaps, crime dramas, and musicals alike. Most recently she finished in second place in Belgium's version of The Voice. Can she use her experience to put the pressure on this year's frontrunners?

When I first reviewed this entry back in January, I said "What's the Pressure" and its awesome bass line was basically radio ready,((So WHY is it not available on the iTunes store yet?! GRRRR)) and favorably compared Tesoro's voice with Audra Mae's. Two months later, not much has changed ... and that's a very good thing. It ain't broke, and nobody's trying to fix it! This song is danceable, singable, and funky enough to stand out from the crowd, while Tesoro has the charm to command a stage. She's got the moves and a good staging team, too, if her Eurosong-winning performance and the official ESC video embedded above are any proof. That's no small advantage when some otherwise strong entries feature a singer with a great voice who seems awkward onstage.((I love you dearly, Latvia, despite your flaws.))

Earlier in the season, before I'd seen any performance videos, my worry for Belgium was their staging. That's no longer a concern, but their semi-final placement is. On the one hand, Tesoro will perform in the second half of this round, and will likely serve as a welcome intermediate between the darker (Ukraine, Georgia) and more pop-inflected (Slovenia, Denmark) entries performing nearby.

On the other, the second semi-final features a cohort of six Balkan entries, with a couple of them very promising. That's a mighty strong voting block that could cause problems for entries from Western Europe. Plus, of Belgium's six most reliable supporters, five are either voting in the first semi-final or not voting at all. The bookies have Belgium's odds to win the contest at 150:1, which makes me nervous, but it's early yet for that. I personally love "What's the Pressure" and remain hopeful it will qualify easily before giving Russia a run for their money in the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2016 Entry: Malta — Ira Losco — Walk on Water Thu, 31 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0500 1660375f-9856-4be9-b271-cf71d88374b8 After scrapping "Chameleon", will Malta's choice to "Walk on Water" cause Ira Losco to sink or swim?

Country: Malta
Song Title: "Walk on Water"
Artist: Ira Losco
First Semi-Final: Position TBD
Last year's entry: "Warrior" - Amber (DNQ - 11th Place, SF2)

Now that all the Eurovision entries have been selected, it's time to go back and review them now that the competition is drawing closer.  How have things been modified?  Are there any hints to what kind of live performance we can expect in Stockholm?

Kicking things off for this is Malta.  Way back at the start of February, I reviewed their initial choice of entry, Ira Losco's "Chameleon".  While I thought Ira's performance was fine, the song itself felt a little muddled and pretty standard as far as Eurovision ballads go.  After a disappointing 2015 performance, where they just missed making the finals, playing it safe again didn't seem like a path to success.  Does swapping out "Chameleon" for a new song, "Walk on Water", improve their chances?

"Walk on Water" feels much more current and in touch with music trends, although I wonder if the house-y beats and vocal sampling are going to feel dated in a few years.  The chorus has far more energy than "Chameleon" did, although I still find the song a little bland lyrically.

While the official lineup hasn't been revealed, it's known that Malta will be performing in the second half of the first semi-final.  There's plenty of competition there, including Estonia, Azerbaijan, and Austria.  I'm really curious to see how this song gets staged live - will backing singers be covering the vocal sampling that's present in the recorded version?  Is this song going to translate well to the live stage?  Most importantly, is Ira going to be deliver a vocal performance that matches the power of the recorded one?

Re-listening to "Chameleon", I kept finding Ira's live vocals a bit weak given the song - I'm really concerned with "Walk on Water" that those same vocal issues might pop up again.  As it is, and with no live performances to go off of, I'm going to be paying attention to any promo appearances of the song in the next few weeks - this currently feels on the bubble for me and I can see Malta just missing the finals for the second year in a row if they give a weak performance.

First Listen: "If Love Was a Crime" Would Bulgaria be Guilty? Thu, 24 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0500 8cad45c7-ef5d-4db6-853e-f4c7f606efaa After a two year break, Bulgaria returns to Eurovision with Contest veteran Poli Genova and the radio-friendly track "If Love Was a Crime."

Bulgaria's back to Eurovision, y'all! And so is 2011 alum Poli Genova, whose entry "Na Inat" way back when was one of my favorites from that year even though it didn't stand a chance.((Seriously, 2011 was an awesome Contest.)) As for 2016, Bulgaria is being rather strategic with the song "If Love Was a Crime":

Let's outline the strategy. First, Bulgaria is riding the momentum of hosting last year's Junior Eurovision Song Contest by having Poli Genova, who hosted the event, be the representative. There was some speculation that she might have used an extended version of her interval performance song "Where is My Dress" as her entry, but that would have been a misfire. Genova is more of a known quantity now than she was five years ago, which may help with getting viewer votes.

Second, Bulgaria took their time in this selection, and it shows. Not only was the country the last to present their song choice, the video and production of the track are fully realized. I'll be curious to hear how the intro sounds will play live -- will the EBU consider it something that has to be vocalized or can it be a part of the backing track? Other than that one piece, this track isn't as over-produced as some other entries.

Can this be the entry that will get Bulgaria to the Eurovision final for a second time? Please?

First Listen: Not Sure If "I Stand" With the Czech Republic Tue, 22 Mar 2016 14:00:00 -0500 7033ee81-29f4-4088-bb3a-b33adcb400a3 The Czech Republic hopes to make their first appearance in the Grand Final.

This summer will mark the Czech Republic's fifth entry at Eurovision; in all four previous attempts, the country has failed to qualify out of its semifinal. Last year's entry was promising but missed the final by twenty points. Can Gabriela Gunčíková lift the audience out of their seats and her country to the final round?

I legitimately like this song! (I'm really not sure what it happening with that video, which appears to have a budget of approximately $20, but that's another story.) As a pretty classic female-fronted ballad, it's appropriately atmospheric, and Gunčíková's voice is strong and clear. If there's anything to be critical of, it's that "I Stand" is a little forgettable. There's nothing culturally unique to tie the song to its country, nothing that compels you to sing along, nothing that makes you stand up and cheer. Gabriela doesn't have the mystery of Loreen, the quirkyness of Lena, or the wide-eyed innocence of Emmelie, but I like this song, and hope to see it move through. I just worry about it getting lost in the pack.

First Listen: Azerbaijan Aims for a "Miracle" with Samra in Stockholm Tue, 22 Mar 2016 00:00:00 -0500 2992647d-ead4-40e0-a02c-04008dae1316 Azerbaijan gets back onto its Eurovision footing with Samra's "Miracle"

Azerbaijan's Eurovision entries, with few exceptions, have always felt a little eerie to me.  They debuted in the competition in 2008 and have been fairly ruthless in pursuing victory since then.  Every entry feels lab-grown, for lack of a better term - you can tell a lot of money was spent figuring out the exact singer and song to send, and their entries always synthesize what's going on in pop at the moment with the general cheesy spirit of the ESC in a way that's a little too uncanny when it happens year over year.  This year's entry, Samra's "Miracle", is no exception:

The more minimal beat that kicks off the song is VERY on trend with pop this year, and immediately launches into some equally Eurovision-friendly instrumentation by the time the chorus hits.  Lyrics go straight for heartbreak, a nice universal theme, and Samra's vocal performance is perfectly pitched.  Where I think think this could get tripped up is the live performance - if that can't match the performance in the promo, we may see Azerbaijan sweating whether they'll make it to the final stage come their semi-final.

First Listen: Sweden Reps Scandipop with Frans' "If I Were Sorry" Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:45:00 -0500 7b306554-3ff7-42c2-a1ed-1ab9c04f9d63 Frans' "If I Were Sorry" represents Swedish pop songwriting well, but will it take the Eurovision crown for Sweden again?

Swedish (and Scandinavian) pop songwriting dominates the radio around the world, whether you recognize it or not.  Many of the best producers, writers, and even singers are coming out of Stockholm, Gothenburg, and the rest of the region.  It's no wonder that even if Sweden doesn't win the Eurovision song contest in a given year, it's not surprising to see them have some influence on the competition - even the scoring system is getting a little more Swedish this year and borrowing what's been working in Melodifestivalen for the contest as a whole.  How does the home team's entry this year, Frans' "If I Were Sorry", stack up against the competition?

Bookmakers were predicting that Sweden had pretty good chances of repeating with this one, but after a few listens, I'm firmly in the camp that, as with most winners, they'd like to have a good showing in the final, but have no desire to win again.  This is a great pop song with a good performance from Frans, and does a great job of treading the line between indie and mainstream pop with its structure and instrumentation.  This doesn't sound like a Eurovision entry to me, though.  This would be a great interval act, and I'm sure it will slot nicely between whatever entries make the final, but something about the song and performance itself doesn't quite feel "Eurovision winner" to me.

First Listen: ZAA Sanja Vučić Says "Goodbye" Serbia, Hello Stockholm Mon, 21 Mar 2016 23:30:00 -0500 387d589d-b9f7-4594-9c37-b7799dbe269f ZAA Sanja Vučić is singing "Goodbye (Shelter)" for Serbia in Stockholm - will she say goodbye to the finals?

I tend to like Serbia's entries for the Eurovision Song Contest - I still have a "Caroban" ringtone that I use as an alarm on my phone, and "Ovo Je Balkan" is a pretty solid "no, this is what Eurovision is" entry to point people to when you're trying to get them on board with Eurovision as a whole.  This year's performer, ZAA Sanja Vučić, has a slightly confusing name((Is ZAA Sanja?  Are those two different people?)), but does "Goodbye (Shelter)" have what it takes to make it to the Eurovision finals?

The more I listen to this one, the more I like it.  The intro is a little too Postmodern Jukebox for my personal taste (although that may just be the old-timey microphone), but the song builds beautifully to an emotional climax.  I can't quite place my finger on who ZAA Sanja reminds me of, vocally, but if this is a live performance, she definitely has the performance skills to impress in Stockholm.

The song definitely hits the peaks/valleys a Eurovision ballad is supposed to hit, but there's something to be said for executing a template well - there's a reason the template became a template in the first place.  I'm interested to see how this performance (which takes advantage of a full orchestra behind ZAA Sanja) gets translated to Stockholm - I hope they replace that element with dancers or some other element that sticks out on stage to highlight what's a pretty fantastic song to use as a base.

First Listen: Greece Sends Argo's "Utopian Land" to Stockholm Sat, 19 Mar 2016 10:00:00 -0500 caa9a46a-106e-4980-b1d0-c833e7e604c5 Is Argo's "Utopian Land" the ideal choice for Greece to send to the Eurovision Song Contest?

Greece is always an inevitable qualifier to the Eurovision finals, whether their entry deserves to get there or not.  This can be fine when they send a fun entry, but can be intolerable when they're a bit dour and sending something overly serious.  Last year's entry, "One Last Breath", was pitchy and overdone, and for once looked like Greece might not qualify for the final night's contest.  How does this year's entry, Argo's "Utopian Land", fare?

Dour Greece is back, you guys.  Argo's song, despite the nice beat, is kind of a slog and feels (oddly enough) like an Ace of Base B-Side.  And I don't mean that in a positive way.  Without a performance video, I have no idea what to expect on stage in Stockholm, but it'll probably be a little closer to "Watch My Dance" than "Rise Up".  I like the national flavor in the instrumentation, but I can't say I'm excited to see this in the final based on sound alone.

First Listen: Romania's Ovidiu Anton Brings the Drama with "Moment of Silence" Wed, 16 Mar 2016 10:00:00 -0500 256fb69d-d9ba-45bb-b67b-78c4106c2cf4 Romania always brings the drama, but will Ovidiu Anton bring the Eurovision Song Contest to Bucharest in 2017?

There are a few countries you can trust to bring drama to the Eurovision Song Contest year after year.  Romania is such a country - if they're not bringing an opera singer wailing over a Eurodance beat, they're at least bringing pyrotechnics ((or piano?)).  That seems to be happily on track with this year's entry, Ovidiu Anton's "Moment of Silence":

The actual song structure here isn't super unique (certainly within the realm of Eurovision, if not music in general), but it's a nice rock-y power ballad.  The Mad Max-esque styling is pretty awesome, although I'd love to see Ovidiu and company take it up another level for the big show in Stockholm.  The lyrics here feel like they may be referring to some actual conflict rather than just something created for the song, but they're also generic enough that Romania isn't in Ukraine territory.  I definitely think with the right performance, this has what it takes to make the final, but I think it could easily get knocked out there by something far more poppy - with few exceptions, that tends to be the way the contest swings these days.

First Listen: Donny Montell heads back to Eurovision Wed, 16 Mar 2016 05:00:00 -0500 059d7264-84fa-402e-a874-a88c34743fe6 Donny Montell is the latest Eurovision alumnus to join the party in Stockholm, as "I've Been Waiting for this Night" will represent Lithuania at this year's Contest.

Donny Montell is no stranger to Eurovision, having represented Lithuania back in 2012 with his disco ballad "Love is Blind." Montell has grown up quite a bit((#Swole)) and modernized with his latest single "I've Been Waiting for this Night." Over the weekend he won Lithuania's selection marathon and will be headed to Stockholm with the same song:

The song originally came out in December and fits in perfectly with today's pop landscape. "I've Been Waiting for this Night" is very 2015, which could be Montell's biggest obstacle in the Eurovision Song Contest. I would not describe the Contest as a tastemaker, but I think there is the hope that the process is forward looking in where music can go. There is a timelessness that connects some of the more notable Eurovision entries, but this song is firmly rooted in this six month period.

The other potential issue: this song and performance is wayyyyy over-produced. The backing track is relentless, the fog machine is an unnecessary touch((I know this is Eurovision, which means it must be a big problem if I'm bringing it up.)) and Montell's styling is a bit too coiffed. The above video is from Lithuania's semi-final, but catching his performance on Saturday my immediate reaction was that Montell looked like a cross between David Silver from Beverly Hills, 90210 and Bill Pullman's character from Ruthless People.

The production and performance problems can easily be fixed in the next two months. As for the longevity issue, that's a question that can't be answered until next year.

First Listen: Will Iveta Mukuchyan Make Any "LoveWave"s in Stockholm? Tue, 15 Mar 2016 22:15:00 -0500 6be26686-a082-45a3-985f-a927fae3ee69 Does Iveta Mukuchyan's "LoveWave" have what it takes to make the Eurovision finals?

Armenia is always a little hard to track when it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest.  Sometimes thy go pure pop, other times they go very message-driven, and sometimes they stay out of the contest entirely((which, given the political situation over in that region, was a smart choice that year)).  What does this year's entrant, Iveta Mukuchyan's "LoveWave", hold in store?

It's all very dramatic, but does nothing for me.  Iveta's elocution has me scratching my head over the lyrics of this - I know the song's in English, but I'm not sure I'd be able to tell if I was listening from across the room.  The song structure here is also interesting - it never quite resolves into a standard verse/chorus structure and has a weird spoken intro.  Non-traditional is fine - goodness knows Aminata's "Love Injection" brought the atypical to the top 10, but I'm not sure this song has the same kind of power.  It's definitely got drama, and a good performance could kick it all the way to the finals, but I'm not sure we'll be heading to Armenia in 2017 based on this song alone.

First Listen: Poland Sends "Color Of Your Life" Tue, 15 Mar 2016 14:00:00 -0500 94cc62e1-34f2-4d69-a981-884f6bb5abf1 After a rough 2015, Poland looks to regain some momentum at the Contest.

After a strong 2014, the 2015 contest was not kind to Poland, who finished in front of only four other entries. When the only thing between you and last place are three members of the Big Five and two countries earning "nul points?" That is a disaster, and a narrowly-averted tragedy. Perhaps 2016 will be the year this country gets back up on its feet ...

Am I the only one who thinks this track was hijacked from a "hero falls in love with villain" montage in an 80s movie? I mean, just look at that cover image on the YouTube video! From the heavily-synthed opening to the Journey-esque melody to not one but TWO key changes, this song starts big and stays big. Musically, it reminds me a little of Azerbaijan 2013 (aka Man In A Box), but without some of the restraint and intrigue that made that a great entry.

One of the questions I ask myself while doing a First Listen is: does this track tell a story? In this case, "Color of Your Life" asks a question, which is not as good as telling a story, but certainly better than whatever Montenegro is doing this year. While this song is easy to listen to, it's also fairly flat, and not compelling enough to warrant more than a listen or two. Poland needs a great entry to be taken seriously, and this is definitely not it.

First Listen: Croatia returns to Eurovision with "Lighthouse" Tue, 15 Mar 2016 05:00:00 -0500 242c419d-6f8c-4b0a-b70d-0552cb6da9f3 Croatia's back! They will be sending the winner of The Voice Nina Kraljic to Stockholm with the song "Lighthouse" -- will it bring the country to the harbor of the Grand Final?

Croatia! Long time no see! The former Yugoslavian state has taken a break from the Eurovision Song Contest, last competing in 2013 with the pretty yet misguided entry "Mizerja", which capped a four year streak of failing to make it to the final. Opting for another internal selection this year, Croatia will be sending the winner of the first season of their version of The Voice((The unofficial feeder system of the Eurovision Song Contest)) Nina Kraljic with the song "Lighthouse" to Stockholm. Take a listen((If you can. Universal has made it nigh impossible to find a version online that isn't copyright blocked if you are in the U.S.)):

As a personal preference, this song isn't really my jam. It feels a little overproduced, though that may be some audio trickery to make it available to those of us Stateside.((Seriously, Universal, what the H?)) I'm not one for nautical metaphors, especially since this one seems to make only about 80% of the journey to completion.

That being said, I think this is a strong return for Croatia. Their 2013 entry was lovely to listen to, but its style was not a good match for Eurovision and the group featured six performers, which hamstrung them when it came to staging. I looooooooved their 2012 entry "Nebo", but that feeling seemed to be shared by almost no one outside of the former Yugoslavia. Oddly, this sounds more Irish than Ireland's entry. Perhaps that is some strategy on Croatia's part?

In terms of stuff to work on, make the doggone song easily available to people outside of Europe (or wherever the region blocking is affected). I would also advise against getting too literal in the stage presentation, as that could make the performance more circus-y than engaging.

Welcome back, Croatia! You have been missed.

First Listen: Italy Picks Stadio, Sends Francesca Instead Mon, 14 Mar 2016 19:00:00 -0500 ff2436dd-6865-4fbd-9cd0-95aeba1de453 Francesca Michielin is not who Italy selected, but she's who they're sending!

Many predicted 2015 would be Italy's year to win the big prize, and Il Volo certainly came close, landing in third place only a handful of votes behind runner-up Russia. When offered the chance to represent their country this year, Sanremo Music Festival winners Stadio had other plans -- literally, they had to decline because they already have a tour scheduled for this summer. So, the invite went to Sanremo runner-up Francesca Michielin, who (thankfully) accepted. Her song wasn't the best at Sanremo, so how will she stack up against the competition at Eurovision?

Well, let's start by remembering this very same thing happened last year -- Germany ended up sending the runner-up of their national selection process after the winner bowed out. Let's just say it didn't go so well for the Jerrys.

Honestly I don't see this scenario ending well for Italy, either. There's not much wrong with Francesca's song, but nothing to help it stand out from the crowd, either. Her voice is really nice, but the melody lies within a very narrow range and rarely strays. The song grows steadily, but doesn't stick with you when it's over. It's enjoyable, but I can't hum it for you, even having watched it twice within the past ten minutes. (Instead I have the Estonian entry stuck in my head.)

There's no doubt we'll see Italy in the finals; as a financial sponsor of the contest, they automatically qualify. But I don't think we'll see them break the top ten, or even the top half with this entry. They'll almost certainly get SOME points -- Italy can always rely on Cyprus for a few, even if only out of pity -- but this wasn't even the favored entry of most Italians, and I can't see it gaining much traction with others.

First Listen: Estonia came to "Play", y'all Mon, 14 Mar 2016 05:00:00 -0500 eb5bd64e-8950-44cb-b2b9-6abca49243d9 Estonia builds on its Eurovision momentum from last year by choosing "Play" by Juri Pootsmann for Stockholm. Are we all in for Tallinn?

2016 is becoming an alumni-heavy affair, both on the stage (Kaliopi! Donny Montell! Team Bosnia!) and with the songwriters. Estonia's song "Play" was written by their representative from last year Stig Rasta. Like next-door neighbor Latvia, the previous year's rep won't be on the stage, but they are still making their presence known with another flippin' amazing song. Juri Pootsmann gets the privilege of performing this track:

Okay, so this First Listen series is supposed to be gut reactions to songs after one (maybe two) play on Youtube on watching a national final. This song is easily at the top of the list of most frequently played tracks on my various devices. The retro vibe of the song hits so many points of the soul timeline, from late 60s to that one month in the early 80s when Brits were tapping into the genre to now with Mark Ronson's aesthetic.

My concern with "Play" is Pootsmann's performance. The above video from Eesti Laul (Estonia's selection process) is an improvement over the official music video for "Play" -- the performance in the latter felt flat and not as engaging while the former takes advantage of television being a closeup medium. My concern is that Pootsmann will need to have a more commanding presence once he is on the Globe stage. I would hate for the song to suffer because it gets swallowed by the venue. I trust the Estonian delegation will come up with a stellar performance, as they were one of the few countries to do so with last year's wonky stage.

Now if you excuse me, I need to play "Play" seven thousand more times.

First Listen: Montenegro Has "The Real Thing" Sun, 13 Mar 2016 20:00:00 -0500 bd79a51e-3c59-41e8-8690-9fedb3b0758e But does Montenegro have a thing that's any good?

I really appreciate Montenegro's presence in the song contest; stylistically speaking, we never quite know whether to expect a legitimately well-done ballad, a "monetary breakdance," or a space alien who distorts time and gravity. What is Montenegro giving up this year -- a serious attempt at a successful entry, or a goofy loser that keeps Eurovision weird?

Darn, I was hoping for "goofy loser." This is just not a good entry. Wait, here's something positive: I like the dancer, she's great! Otherwise, it's angsty in a way that's not compelling, doesn't tell a story (we get it: you're good at sex!) or create an inviting atmosphere, and doesn't make particularly good use of EDM/dubstep elements. It's also repetitive, similar to this year's Dutch entry, and so is likely to wear out its welcome pretty quickly among listeners / voters. Last but not least, the lyrics "you've got speedy shadows on the walls / i see you inside them" has to be in the running for the year's worst lyrics. I feel like we HAVE to start an annual contest for that.

From what I have seen so far, this year's contest has a pretty good variety of song types that I'm looking forward to hearing -- it's not too ballad heavy -- so "The Real Thing" wouldn't even be useful in the Grand Final as a palate cleanser. If this song does make it through the qualification round and into the final, it'll only be because of countries like San Marino.

First Listen: The Netherlands Goes Country (Again) Sun, 13 Mar 2016 14:00:00 -0500 6ed5e3aa-0c66-4125-8b4a-93b7528d4eb3 Has The Netherlands gone too many times to that well?

After a regrettable showing in which Trijntje Oosterhuis's terrible outfit choices overshadowed her mediocre song, The Netherlands are returning to a formula that's been relatively successful in recent years: a folk / country act fronted by an earnest young man. This time it's Douwe Bob, who has been known to sing with both Anouk and The Common Linnets, two artists that helped break a long string of Dutch Eurovision failures-to-qualify. Can he tap into their success to get The Netherlands back on track?

At first glance, this is a pleasant entry. Douwe Bob has an incredibly smooth voice and a song that rolls the listener along without a care in the world. Can anyone tell me what this is actually about, though? Generally speaking, lyrics are not a make-or-break component of a Eurovision entry, and some of the most popular songs don't really make any sense. (Looking at you, Måns.) But the lyrics do need to tell some kind of story. Unfortunately, "Slow Down" reminds me more of last year's Icelandic collection of choruses than the Swedish winner. On the one hand, in a song that lasts only 2:45 -- a full 15 seconds below the limit -- it's boring to have the entire last minute of the song be choruses and instrumental interludes. On the other hand, the lyrics in the verses don't make any sense, so we don't need more of that and perhaps it's better to just finish early.

Given the amount of exposure Eurovision audiences get to these songs between now and the contest, it's easy to get tired of a song that seems thin. I've only listened to it twice, and I'm already bored with it. I fully expect this song to struggle to qualify.

First Listen: "I Didn't Know" San Marino Was Sending Serhat Sat, 12 Mar 2016 16:00:00 -0600 df5828c1-5864-4e14-a3f9-180cca9ae520 San Marino continues trolling the Eurovision Song Contest with Serhat's "I Didn't Know".

I'm starting to think that San Marino realizes that they're never going to win the Eurovision Song Contest and is actively seeing what they can get away with sending as an entry.  After sending poor Valentina Monetta and some Ralph Siegel-penned ditty for 3 years, they kept Ralph and sent another overly cheesy song last year to the same ((poor)) showing.  And then there's this year's entry, Serhat's "I Didn't Know"

If you told me this was the result of an experiment to see how close of a line you can make between talking in a deep raspy voice and singing, I would believe you.  This is a ridiculous song which is not helped by the video, which feels like something that was made at a mall kiosk in 30 minutes and is oddly creepy.  Serhat's performance reminds me most closely of Zlad!, who represented Molvania years back with "Elektronik Supersonik", but if you tried to make that sultry somehow.  I hope the "second-rate Austin Powers villain" aesthetic extends to the performance in Stockholm, and I will be very mad if Serhat is not wearing his monocle headstrap on stage.

In summary: I am laughing too hard at this entry to take it seriously.  I hope it makes the finals so I can show my Eurovision party this ridiculousness.

First Listen: Latvia is Looking for a "Heartbeat" Sat, 12 Mar 2016 15:30:00 -0600 a073f195-9e5b-4837-9be5-0c80b3d393ec No, not THAT ONE, although who wouldn't watch a Latvian TV show called Riga Vice?

Around this time last year, Latvia stole my heart with an amazing entry that earned douze points from three countries and placed a very strong 6th by the time voting was finished. Riding on her success in Vienna, Aminata Savadogo once again landed atop the Supernova voting results, although this time as a songwriter only. Has Latvia found a performer that can do her song justice on the main stage?

Here's the thing about the entry -- it's a very nice collection of parts, but doesn't seem like a synthesized whole, at least not yet. The relatively sparse, electric instrumentation is exactly what I want and expect from an Aminata track. Justs' vocals are great when he opens up about halfway through the second verse, with a raspiness and strength that remind me of Aram Mp3, who some predicted might win the 2014 contest. There's just nothing to tie it together. Justs seems uncomfortable and stiff onstage, and stays planted in that one spot the whole time. That worked last year for Aminata, but it was part a larger aesthetic. Here it seems like it's less an intentional decision and more "we didn't know what else to do with him."

Justs hasn't commanded my attention with this entry, yet, but he doesn't necessarily have to do anything different himself. Eurovision is full of slightly (or fully) awkward singers who end up doing well thanks to creative staging and camerawork. If they can find a way to get some visual interest and/or motion into the staging, this will probably be a moderately successful year for Latvia.

First Listen: Agnete is Norway's Pick for Stockholm Thu, 10 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0600 1356ff06-2f64-466a-9f53-cec0658cf919 Does Norway have what it takes to break through to the Eurovision final with Agnete's "Icebreaker"?

Chalk it up to my Scandinavian heritage, but I've always had a soft spot for the Nordic nations in Eurovision.  There's something so well crafted about Scandi-pop that it's hard not to root for it in a contest dedicated to songcraft.  Norway and Sweden in particular always seem to be good about taking what's going on in pop and giving it enough of a Eurovision twist to stand out (even if the crowd isn't quite ready for it - I still thought "Haba Haba" was top 10 material).  This year, after "A Monster Like Me"'s okay showing in the final, they're going with something slightly more uptempo in Agnete's "Icebreaker":

Norway had a few great entries in the MGP this year, but I'm not sure I would have initially pegged "Icebreaker" to win.  I find the tempo shift between verses and chorus a little too jarring for my taste, but Agnete does a great job with the song, and I like how literal the metaphor is used here, especially for a country with a major shipping port like Norway.  It's very on brand.

I'd maybe be concerned about the similarity between this song and something like Loreen's "Euphoria" (which I hear major echoes of throughout the song), but the staging here feels different enough from that (and from every other country that's shamelessly copying the "interact with on-screen elements" approach Sweden used last year) that I think there's enough to stand out in this performance and take Norway to the finals, if not the top 10.

First Listen: Finland Asks Sandhja to "Sing It Away" Wed, 09 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0600 6004a3dc-2069-4f82-86c8-5698180369d3 She swept the Finnish national final, but can Sandhja sing her way to a Eurovision victory in Stockholm?

Finland is one of the more interesting Nordic nations to watch in the run-up to the Eurovision finals.  Unlike Norway or Sweden, there's a certain unpredictability to the entry they'll send - everything from metal to pop to punk has been sent in the past decade, and the Finnish televoters seem to be willing to follow whatever weird drumbeat they want to.  Continuing this trend is this year's entry, Sandhja's "Sing It Away", which had already won by jury vote before the televoters had their say:

A good part of me really wants to like this song more than I do.  The energy of the chorus is fantastic, as is the brass arrangement that's going on throughout it.  And then there are the verses and bridge , which feel copied and pasted in from a different song on Sandhja's inevitable album.  I like Sandhja's general vocal tone, but there's a lack of control in her performance that tends to go off key quickly, which could hurt her chances in a semi-final if she's not giving her best performance there.

Then there's the lyrical content of the song.  Admittedly, you really shouldn't go to Eurovision songs looking for in-depth lyrics, but these ones are especially bland and follow the same generic "sing away your troubles" that at least one entry a year sends in.  There's a nice amount of soul to the voice performing them, but I wonder if this will get outshined by better entries in their semifinal.

First Listen: Israel's Hovi Star is "Made of Stars" for Stockholm Tue, 08 Mar 2016 06:00:00 -0600 91f5178c-7758-4060-a490-13e52ed2258d Israel's Rising Star has brought Hovi Star to the forefront, but will "Made of Stars" make him a star at Eurovision?

Israel's version of Rising Star was used last year to find their Eurovision Song Contest representative Nadav Guedj and they ended up in the Final for the first time since 2010. It makes sense that the delegation would use the same process to see if lightning will strike twice. Hovi Star won this year's competition with the song "Made of Stars" and will represent Israel in Stockholm this May. Here's the song:

Hmmm. This is a complicated one to dissect. Hovi Star has a solid vocal, though the song doesn't demonstrate a great amount of range or challenge. This is the kind of song that jumps to mind when people talk about Eurovision as a genre, with manufactured melodrama and unearned key changes and light use of metaphor and analogy. There also isn't anything that is distinctly Israeli about this entry. A song like this could just as easily come out of Denmark, Austria, or Moldova. In other words: good singer choice, bad song choice.

It turns out I'm not the only person who thinks this. A petition effort is underway to swap Hovi Star's song for one sung by another finalist from Rising Star. I'm not sure if this solves the problem as "Somebody out There" has many of the same problems as "Made of Stars", though I do think the second song is slightly less bland. My hope is that for whichever song gets used (if a third, better option doesn't materialize) is that a remix or rewrite to make it stand out as an Israeli song instead of a "Eurovision" song happens.

First Listen: Russia tells Sergey Lazarev "You Are the Only One" Mon, 07 Mar 2016 10:00:00 -0600 842253dc-5c20-4560-9810-91ea4cc5152a RussiaGonnaRussia at Eurovision again, sending dreamy pop superstar Sergey Lazarev to Stockholm with "You Are the Only One".

When it was merely rumored that Sergey Lazarev would be representing Russia at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, my reaction was the same as it is with most Russian entries: Dammit, that's a reallllllllllllly good idea.((#RussiaGonnaRussia)). I mean, I'm not made of stone.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Russia's Eurovision entry. Sergey Lazarev was confirmed a few weeks later and now we know his song, which will be "You Are the Only One":

This entry is a bit of a head scratcher for me. Russia's perfect record for making it to Eurovision finals isn't in danger, but there's something about this entry that feels a It isn't like Russia to emulate other countries who were successful in the previous year, instead opting for women with power ballads since those are pretty reliable on their own. The video above may be coloring this perception a bit, but it feels Russia and Lazarev are trying to check many of the Sweden/Zelmerlow boxes.

I'm also curious about the backstory as to why "You Are the Only One" was selected. The song sounds like a power ballad usually delivered by a female singer at the Contest, which makes me wonder if this was in the back catalog for Russia's typical selections (female power ballad singers) rather than for Lazarev specifically.

There is a Greek quality to the song, which undoubtedly comes from the influence of co-composer Dimitris Kontopoulos, who was involved with "Shine" (Russia, 2014) "Hold Me" (Azerbaijan, 2013), and "Shady Lady" (Ukraine, 2008). Two of those songs are in my list of all-time favorites, so it's weird that my initial reaction to "You Are the Only One" is somewhat subdued. However, this track also reminds me of "One Last Breath", Greece's entry from last year, which I did not like at first but grew to love by the time it hit the stage in Vienna.

My initial impression of Sergey Lazarev is starting from a much more positive place((Call me?)), so we'll see if I say "You Are the Only One" when it comes time to pick a winner in May.

First Listen: Amir says "J'ai Cherché" for France Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:00:00 -0600 a61503a0-2fff-4b42-ab78-d11dcd5a610a France has sought a way out of the Eurovision Song Contest basement for years. They may have found the way with "J'ai Cherché" by Amir.

In my five years of covering Eurovision, France has always been a point of curiosity for me. I don't mean that negatively: the choices France makes for this competition have an old school feel, even though they do not necessarily work out strategically. It's been a downward slide since France's 8th place finish in 2009, bottoming out in 2014 in last place.

Given the horrific tragedies France faced in 2015, I was particularly interested in how they would approach Eurovision this year. Would they send an anthem for peace? Would they send the Frenchiest Frenchness that ever Frenched? Instead, France has selected "J'ai Cherché" ("I Sought") by Amir Haddad, which could be a frontrunner in Stockholm:

There are so many things to love about this entry. First, Amir's background is Eurovision personified. According to his Wikipedia biography, Amir is the son of Tunisian and Moroccan-Spanish Jewish parents. He grew up in Israel and participated in the singing competition Kokhav Nolad (Israeli Idol). He was also a finalist on France's version of The Voice, a franchise whose alumni have had a pretty good track record at Eurovision. That's quite a few constituencies to get represented at the Contest.

Even without the background, this is a fantastic pop song. "J'ai Cherché" is modern in its pop rock sensibility, but doesn't feel particularly dated.((R.I.P. Dubstep.)) Part of France's struggle in the last few years has been in sending songs that can't really survive outside the Eurovision ecosystem. Amir's track is beyond radio-friendly and will likely be in regular rotation on my various playlists.

What Amir and the French delegation need to focus on is creating a dynamic and memorable stage presentation. My issue with France the last several years is that I have been able to correctly predict not only what they will do but that it will be a dull, non-engaging performance. If "J'ai Cherché" is properly packaged, I think this could be a dark horse as the points start rolling in.

First Listen: Germany's "Ghost" Needs More Spookiness Sat, 05 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0600 9bdd6c2c-314f-4db9-a47f-c9fed65d6a72 Germany's Eurovision entry "Ghost" by Jamie-Lee Kriewitz may be the source of a boo or two in Stockholm.

Remember when Germany won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010 and went on a bit of a Top 10 run for a few years after? Those good times came to a screeching halt last year when their entry "Black Smoke" tied for last place with the dreaded nil points distinction. To be fair, the song was not the country's first choice, so it could be argued Germany tried to make the best of a bad situation.

Then there was this year, which was a bad situation all of Germany's own making. Possibly in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's "thanks for the invite, but no" debacle, the country was going to go with the internal selection of Xavier Naidoo, an R&B artist who would bring a much-needed multicultural vibe to the festivities. That was until someone actually did a Google search on the guy and found this excerpt from Wikipedia:

Xavier Naidoo has blamed the Rothschild family for German's 20th century history[7][8] and has spoken at a meeting of the Reichsbürgerbewegung, the right-wing movement that seeks to restore Germany's pre-1918 borders, denies the legal existence of the Federal Republic of Germany and claims Germany is a country occupied by enemy, foreign forces. However, Naidoo said nothing to promote or condone right-wing extremism or even simply right-wing thought. Instead, he spoke of peace, and that the goal of any political party or demonstration should promote peace. In this particular case he called upon the demonstrators to stop their hate-filled protest, in the hope of preventing violence. Though he mentioned historical political events, he did not glorify or defend these.

In case you didn't click on those footnotes, both sources were retrieved in March of 2015. Couple that with allegations of anti-Semitic and homophobic lyrics and you can understand the schadenfreude of Germany's self-induced situation. As a result, there is a national final for artists and songs, with "Ghost" by Jamie-Lee Kriewitz winning:

Is Germany trolling us? In a year of less than stellar lyrics, this entry is going above and beyond in terms of mixed metaphors, cliches, and an unclear central thesis. Although the above video does not provide the visual of the live performance, the audio of some of the note choices (tics?) is not encouraging. I'm not even sure if a rewrite would work, as the structure of the song has the feel of getting built backwards rather than organically.

Get your head in the game, Deutschland.

First Listen: Hungary's Ready for Freddie's "Pioneer" Tue, 01 Mar 2016 11:00:00 -0600 c76b05d0-6a77-4680-831b-f24e5f1b5ae5 Hungary will be sending "Pioneer" by Freddie to the Eurovision Song Contest. Could this song lead the way to victory in Stockholm?

At the conclusion of Hungary's lengthy Eurovision selection process A Dal, the judges and public decided that Freddie and his song "Pioneer" will represent the country in Stockholm in May. Let's watch his final performance:

Let's tick off some of the boxes from the Eurovision checklist, shall we?

I'm sold. Full disclosure, I've been in the bag for Hungary forever as they have been circling the perimeter of the Eurovision trophy. I'm looking forward to hearing a more refined studio version of this track as Freddie's delivery in the live show made it difficult to understand what he was saying. It might also help bring out some charisma in the song, which I think is there but has become muddled.

We are reaching the halfway point in the selection process and I'm not convinced "Pioneer" is a Top 10 contender...yet. The song and the performance above have some strong bones and I think with some solid work in the next two months Hungary might be in the running for a surprise in Stockholm.

First Listen: The UK Chooses "You're Not Alone" for Sweden Mon, 29 Feb 2016 11:00:00 -0600 4e42149f-d4fd-450e-a51c-fc8649a41f51 The subtitle to the United Kingdom's Eurovision selection program was "It's Your Choice".  Did they make the right one with Joe & Jake's "You're Not Alone"?

One of the best things I thought the UK did in their Eurovision selection from past years was bringing it internally.  Year over year, the British people had proven that given the opportunity, they would select a truly terrible entry, then wonder why it did so poorly in the Eurovision finals.  True, the initial internal selections (which seemed to mostly be determined by asking "which aging pop star has an album about ready to come out with a 3 minute single?") weren't great, but I thought they were on the right track by going to the BBC's "Introducing" program to find up-and-coming artists.  Still not much luck((although Electro Velvet's blacklight performance of "Still in Love With You" got raves at my Eurovision party last year)), still more complaining.  When I heard they were going back to the "fine, you pick it" model, I was worried.  And that's how we got this:

Here's the scary thing: I think I actually don't mind this choice.  All 6 of the shortlisted songs had their merits and could have easily represented a different side of the UK music scene to the contest, although it felt like this song and Bianca's "Shine a Little Light"((which sounded like a Leona Lewis knockoff to me and turned out to be a Leona Lewis original)) were the cream of the already pretty creamy crop.

I'm kind of surprised the UK gave the in-house panel for the show no vote in the final outcome.  I would have loved to see them adopt a Melodifestivalen-style model, where a 50/50 split between judge votes and televoting determined a superfinal to be voted on by televoting only.  That said, I'm not sure we would've seen a different outcome.  Of the two, Bianca's song feels a little more Eurovision, but Joe & Jake's song reminds me of entries like Denmark's "New Tomorrow" from 2010, which ended up in 5th((and which I still use as an alarm tone on my phone)).  The song's instrumentation feels a bit Coldplay-ish, which I'd normally fling as an insult, but it reminds me of that band's earlier work on A Rush of Blood to the Head, an album I keep going back to.  I liked the general staging of "You're Not Alone", too - there was a nice symmetry to the matching drum kits.  I'd want to see a slightly more glammed-up version of what Joe & Jake were performing in for Stockholm, but it fits the vibe of the song.  I want to say I'm optimistic for the UK's chances this year - I'm not sure this is the song to win it for them, but hopefully it'll at least keep them out of the bottom.

First Listen: Moldova Catches "Falling Stars" Sun, 28 Feb 2016 20:00:00 -0600 c70d7d22-41d5-4579-a23e-f72f506418ad Moldova's hitching their wagon to Lidia Isac's "Falling Stars." Will it get them back to the Grand Final?

In the early 2010s, Moldova's entries were some of the most fun to watch, but they've failed to qualify for the Grand Final in the past two years (perhaps due to the lack of Pasha Parfeny). Can this former Soviet Socialist Republic restore the magic and get back to Eurovision success?

Moldova's past success at bringing a weird and energetic (if not "good") entry to the Eurovision stage makes this year's danceably generic entry that much more disappointing. It's only slightly better than not sending an entry at all, like in 2014.((Moldova did actually enter that year but the song was so bad I prefer to think it never existed.)) I don't think this song has much energy, or anything to separate it from the crowd. I also don't think Lidia Isac is doing a particularly good job with the interval in the chorus. I do appreciate the commitment from the electronic drum set player! As with Slovenia, though, if that's the best Moldova has going for them, it's going to be a rough year. They might sneak through, but sadly, I'll be looking for them to complete a hat-trick of qualification failures this year.

First Listen: Slovenia Sends "Blue and Red" Into the Mix Sun, 28 Feb 2016 19:30:00 -0600 b8ad2207-ed4d-408e-9d27-7ade4220df07 Slovenia might win my drinking game, but they need to do better if they want to build momentum at Eurovision.

Eurovision voters were largely not here for last year's catchy "Here For You, " which finished in 14th place. That was a pretty disappointing result for the song, I thought, but Slovenia has a yery spotty record of even making the final show. So last year was good progress, and something to build upon. Can they take advantage of the opportunity to gather momentum in 2016?

This entry is having a serious identity crisis. Aurally, it's a Taylor Swift breakup knock-off -- she's healing and sounding a little bit country after ending a relationship that didn't work. None of that is represented visually, though. ManuElla starts in a Lonely Hearts-esque jackets, and everyone else is clad in leather, epaulettes, hotpants, or all of the above. I appreciate the nod towards my ESC drinking game with the simultaneous key AND costume change! If that's the best thing you have going for your entry, though, this is not going to be a good year for you.

With stronger vocals, this entry might turn out okay. That said, we saw several countries (Malta and Azerbaijan come to mind) with otherwise promising songs thwarted by pitchiness in the final performances last year. ManuElla seems like she may have the same issues down the homestretch. Given an already pretty strong field, with many of the top-ten mainstays yet to finalize their selections, I have a feeling Slovenia will struggle to make it out of its semifinal.

First Listen: Cyprus sends an "Alter Ego" to Eurovision Sat, 27 Feb 2016 18:00:00 -0600 a9eed7ec-68cf-407a-82b1-f95edcd4b009 Cyprus will be rocking out in Stockholm with "Alter Ego" by Minus One at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Formed in 2009, Minus One is a five-piece rock band that specializes in covers and rearrangements of songs. The group became more widely known in the Eurovision universe in 2015 when they competed in the Cypriot national final. Though the national jury ranked Minus One as number one, the viewer vote sent John Kaayiannis to Vienna instead.

Cyprus kicked off the selection process for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest by choosing Minus One to be their representative in Stockholm. It is not unheard of for a national final runner-up to do well at a future Contest. They finally settled on "Alter Ego" as the song:

Although rock tends to have a difficult time getting a foothold at the Contest, this entry is much more polished than recent rock entries. It may also help that Minus One worked with esteemed Eurovision songwriter Thomas G:son in composing their entry. G:son's more recent work includes Georgia's 2015 entry "Warrior" and 2013 entry "Waterfall", Spain's 2015 entry "Amanecer" and 2012 entry "Quedate Conmigo", and Sweden's winner from 2012 "Euphoria." In total, G:son has a resume of almost 70 songs submitted for national finals across Europe since 1999.

I'm reminded of Turkey's 2010 and 2011 entries when listening to "Alter Ego", which may be a mixed blessing as one was a runner up while the other failed to qualify. I doubt this song will change at this point and I'm concerned that lyrically "Alter Ego" could use one more pass. However, if Minus One puts together a strong stage performance, we could be talking about Cyprus as a contender this year.

First Listen: Bosnia & Herzegovina returns with "Ljubav Je" Sat, 27 Feb 2016 16:00:00 -0600 1020088b-dcc9-4598-ae82-1dcdc61a18ad Will Bosnia & Herzegovina's return to Eurovision with the rock/rap ballad "Ljubav Je" be successful?

Bosnia & Herzegovina is back, y'all! This country last appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, and their presence has been missed. This year, their broadcaster BHRT has once again opted for an internal selection, going with the team of Dalal & Deen, cellist Ana Rucner, and hip hop artist Jala.

The group has varied experience with Eurovision. Deen represented Bosnia & Herzegovina in the 2004 Contest, earning ninth place. Though this is her first participation, Ana Rucner's husband Vlado Kalember represented Yugoslavia in the 1984 Contest. Jala is the co-writer of the group's entry "Ljubav Je", which you can listen to below:

Bosnia & Herzegovina has always been one of my favorite countries in Eurovision, and I had a theory that if the country returned in a strategic way, they could be the next former Yugoslavian country to win. I'm not sure that will come to pass, as there are a lot of elements here that have not found success previously.

The song leans a little too close to hard rock, while the rap elements might make this a tough sell for juries. I'm not a fan of the staging for this video, as it comes across like two separate presentations getting slapped together rather than one cohesive piece.

However, there are things I like about this entry. I appreciate that the core of this is a male/female duo rather than a duet. There was too much of the latter in last year's competition, so this is a refreshing change. Also, though this has the trait of other ballads from the region where the song just stops (see last year's entry from Montenegro or Serbia's 2012 entry), the abrupt end feels a bit more natural rather than "oops, we're at the three-minute mark."

I'll be curious to hear the final version of this track, as well as what staging may be used in Stockholm.

First Listen: Iceland's "Calling" Out to Stockholm Fri, 26 Feb 2016 11:00:00 -0600 4fb87abf-9c44-4107-be25-2ba28795dbd9 Does Iceland's "Hear Them Calling" get lost in translation?

Iceland is one of my favorite countries to watch for Eurovision after they sent Pollaponk a few years ago.  That entry had everything I love in a Eurovision entry - poppy, colorful, and positive.  You didn't need to know what the group was saying to be swayed by their message, but the eventual english translation managed to smoothly capture the spirit of the original song without diminishing it.

And then there's this year's entry.  The original "Raddirnar" felt like an Of Monsters and Men track((I am familiar with Icelandic bands, you guys)) made for Eurovision, with some mystery about it and great brass arrangement.  The music is still there, but the English version, "Hear Them Calling", feels a little...awkward.

The performance is nice, but the staging is completely derivative of last year's winner (and a general increase of "Look! I'm interacting with the computerized background!" performances at award shows).  Depending on the crop of entries in its final, I can see Iceland getting to the finals, but the English translation and copycat staging could give Greta Salome (who's already performed before as part of 2012's "Never Forget") a second low-placing finish.

First Listen: Ukraine Brings the History with "1944" Fri, 26 Feb 2016 00:45:00 -0600 504a19e6-2c86-44f6-9847-6feaa30c8b3b Because it's not really a contest until someone has royally pissed off Russia.

Ukraine is back! We last saw them in 2014; Mariya Yaremchuk brought her hamster wheel along for a pretty great entry, before the country took a year off to handle some issues with their next door neighbor. Speaking of whom ...

I LOVE EVERY SINGLE THING ABOUT THIS ENTRY. The mixed-language lyrics, the foreboding and yet almost completely absent instrumentation, the effective use-not-overuse of CGI, Jamala's amazing voice (she is a jazz and opera singer, y'all) and even the stupid little microphone pouch attached to the back of Jamala's dresspants. Mostly I love that this entry pulls exactly zero punches about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, and manages to point the finger squarely at Russia without ever actually naming them.

My one problem with this entry: I honestly don't see how it makes it to the Contest. Last year's controversial song, Armenia's "Face the Shadow" by a group named Genealogy, used much more oblique references and ended up having to change the name of the song (originally it was "Don't Deny"). If the song does make it to the Contest stage, though? DOUZE POINTS. Seriously. I had the same reaction to this song as I did to last year's "Love Injected" -- meaning that I'm instantly and irrevocably obsessed with it.

First Listen: Georgia Hopes to Cash In with "Midnight Gold" Fri, 26 Feb 2016 00:15:00 -0600 b800ddf2-102c-423f-8de8-12da534a5293 Can an alt-rock song bring Georgia success at this year's Contest?

I still don't know what "oximated" means, but I can say that last year's Georgian entry made the cut for inclusion in my best-of-Eurovision-2015 playlist. I will also admit to being ... nervous ... about what kind of song we'd get this year when the Young Georgian Lolitaz were announced. Fortunately, it's not at all what I expected/feared:

I honestly can't remember the last time we saw an alt-rock entry at Eurovision. (Lordi was hard rock, PKN was punk, and there have been plenty of rock/pop hybrids. Am I forgetting someone else?) Aside from being 10-15 seconds too long, this song is pretty great, if you're into that sort of thing! I like the simple instrumentation of the verses, even if it means the only thing we have to listen to is a pedestrian bass line. I have mixed feelings about the distortion break, though. It makes the song less repetitive, but also seems like the most obvious candidate to be chopped for time.

Overall, Midnight Gold has great structure, mostly clear lyrics, a nice arc, a good ending, and a tight performance from the musicians. It almost feels like it's not a Eurovision entry, which could either be its greatest strength or its biggest downfall. Standing out from the crowd can be helpful when voting time rolls around, and yet there are some types of music ESC viewers just don't tolerate. This is a risky gamble for Georgia, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

First Listen: Switzerland sends "The Last of Our Kind" to Stockholm Fri, 19 Feb 2016 07:00:00 -0600 7c027800-35dd-47d0-bd6a-cc7808962fe7 Did Switzerland make the best choice by selecting Rykka's "The Last of Our Kind" for its 2016 Eurovision Song Contest entry?

It's been almost a week since Switzerland's national final and the end result still bugs me.

Unlike many of the selection processes that have happened so far for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, Switzerland was spoiled for choice in who they could send to Sweden and bounce back from their absolute last place finish in last year's competition. Bella C.'s "Another World" may have been a bit too similar in the Bond theme style as "Rise Like a Phoenix", but when done well (as this was) it hits a lot of the same positive notes as successful entries of other styles. Theo's "Because of You" was perfect Cute Guy with Guitar fodder, where its understated style would have been a stark (and welcome) contrast to the over-styled entries Switzerland has sent the last few years. And although Stanley Miller's "Feel the Love" was somewhat bland, the guy has a solid set of pipes as demonstrated by his cover of Adele's "Hello" in the second round of the final.

Instead of making an interesting choice, Switzerland (with the help of both a jury and televoting) decided on "The Last of Our Kind" by Canadian indie pop singer Rykka. Take a listen:

I can already tell this is going to be one of those entries I will get into arguments about, because I hate this. The song reminds me of Iceland's failed entry from last year, where it is a collection of hooks and choruses rather than a coherent song. Also, much like the lyric video issue I mentioned in my Ireland writeup: if English is your first language, there is no excuse for the lyrics being incomprehensible. Perhaps Rykka was having an off day last Saturday, but her vocal style is not my favorite, either. She lacks range, as demonstrated by her cover of Ellie Golding's "Love Me Like You Do". As a package, Rykka seems like a pale imitation of what Russia has been sending to Eurovision the last few years.

As harsh as this is, I will be curious to see what Rykka and Switzerland do between now and the semi-final to refine this entry. The enthusiasm for this track from my circle of Eurovision folks has been overwhelmingly positive, so perhaps there is a shine to this track that I haven't spotted yet. We'll see how this stacks up once we know what the competition looks like.

New Voting System for Eurovision 2016! Thu, 18 Feb 2016 17:00:00 -0600 d9cb3b58-7dbe-41ec-a53e-fd9b6e1b493c The jury votes and televotes for the Eurovision Song Contest will get a bit more transparent, as organizers announce a new point system for 2016.<!--more-->

The 12 points system has been a staple of the Eurovision Song Contest since 1975. Although there have been minor tweaks here and there with regards to the use of juries or televotes, today's announcement from the Eurovision Song Contest is the biggest overhaul to the system.

The short version: countries will receive one set of points from juries and another set of points from viewers.

Here's how it works. Each country's jury will determine the ten best entries and award points accordingly in the stand 12/10/8-1 format. These will be the results announced by the presenters at the Grand Final. After all 43 countries have presented their results, the hosts of the Contest will announce the viewer votes for each song. Again, each country's viewer votes will be ranked 12/10/8-1, but the hosts will be announcing the cumulative totals. For example, if a song received points from 15 different countries (a few 8's, a couple 7's, maybe a 12 or a 1), that sum will be added to the country's total and will reveal the final score. Presumably, we will not know who the winner will be until the very end of the show.

There are a number of advantages to this new system. First, there's less of a validation issue since it would be extremely difficult for a jury and a country's televote to both be tampered with in a way that would make results unfair. Second, it eliminates the complaint people have had the last few years where the winner was announced as soon as a win was mathematically inevitable, thereby eliminating the participation of some countries revealing their votes.

However, my favorite new development involves the revelation of the viewer votes. The announcement will be done in order of fewest points received. How crazy will it be if the hosts are forced to say "Germany: Nil Points" or "Austria: Nil Points"?((I'm just going by last year's result. No shade!)) Also, this means we will get a definitive ranking of the 26 entries, both as the juries and home audience rate them. That's really useful data for the prognosticators among us.

The downside of this new system involves determining the overwhelming popularity of the winning entry. Norway's record of 387 from 2009 will likely be broken by this new system, though perhaps when the full results are released after the Contest the pre-modified scores can be determined.

What do you think of the new scoring system?

First Listen: Denmark Equips Its "Soldiers of Love" Wed, 17 Feb 2016 11:00:00 -0600 d598564d-e172-4c43-9c6b-b6ff535e92a7 Are Lighthouse X well-equipped to represent Denmark in Stockholm with "Soldiers of Love"?

Denmark is one of my favorite countries to root for in the Eurovision Song Contest - they seem to have a good pulse on how to blend the type of song that wins Eurovision with elements of what's going on in modern pop.  Since last winning in 2013, though, that sense has been a little off.  Let's see if Lighthouse X's "Soldiers of Love" gets them back on track:

For the second year in a row, Denmark is sending a boy band of some sort, although Lighthouse X feels a little closer to Il Volo in terms of age than last year's entry, Anti Social Media, did.  Their song, "Soldiers of Love", is nice, but it feels a little by the numbers for Eurovision.  The group clearly has musical talent, but the song feels a little bland and the performance itself is polished, but nothing special.  This feels strongly middle of the pack for me - depending on the makeup of its semifinal, this may get through, but this may be another year of 12th place and no final for Denmark if stronger entries emerge.

First Listen: Austria Imagines Paradise with ZOË Wed, 17 Feb 2016 00:45:00 -0600 a7d3e972-a341-4790-b63e-9d97f6434ce6 After a disappointing 2015, Austria returns to glamorous, campy form with "Loin d'ici."

Two years ago, Conchita Wurst's "Rise Like a Phoenix" set the Eurovision Song Contest stage aflame in the most fabulous way; last year's attempt by The Makemakes' would be better likened to a garbage fire.This weekend, Austria selected ZOË's "Loin d'ici" to represent them in Stockholm. Without the pressure of hosting, can they put on a good show?

There are so many pieces that I really should not, and normally would not, like in a Eurovision Song Contest entry. ZOË's voice is incredibly delicate, and seems like it would get lost in an arena. The instrumentation feels sparse even though it's layered and varied, with guitar, bass, harp, uke, strings, and percussion (tympani?) all playing important roles. The tempo's too fast; it's not danceable, and the audience at the Austrian finals doesn't seem to know how to react. Performance-wise, the song doesn't feel like it goes much of anywhere, despite some neat visuals and a treadmill to provide motion.

And yet, I think I like this entry, possibly quite a lot? It's hard to argue with a real-life laser portrait, especially when it comes with a bonus wind tunnel. I also appreciate the Oz poppy-field reference, although I'd like it even more if we could get some Wiz poppy dancers. And the lyrics are in French! Which is great! But also really strange! Austria has never sung in French before, mostly German and more recently English! I don't know why I'm so excited about that!

For now, I'm going to file this one under "saccharine but awesome." We'll have to see if the next three months are kind to this entry.

First Listen: Ireland Basks in the "Sunlight" Mon, 08 Feb 2016 13:00:00 -0600 01b5d0d7-c6f0-404c-a56c-9b801d208e09 Ireland has tried to change up its Eurovision process, opting for the internal selection of "Sunlight" by former boybander Nicky Byrne. This may serve to shed light on Ireland's current Contest woes.<!--more-->

Oh, Ireland. Sit down -- we need to chat. You might want to close the door.

Let us recap Ireland's recent struggles at the Eurovision Song Contest. They finished in last place in the 2013 final with "Only Love Survives" by Ryan Dolan. The song wasn't bad, necessarily, but it was an amalgamation of the rest of the field that year and ended up getting lost in the shuffle. 2014's entry "Heartbeat" by Can-Linn and 2015's song "Playing with Numbers" by Molly Sterling both failed to make much of an impression, each finishing in 12th place in their respective semi-finals. It is understandable why Ireland wanted to change up their selection process by going internal this year.

Unfortunately, Ireland seems to have gone the route of picking a former pop star -- in this case, Nicky Byrne from the boyband Westlife -- as well as attempting to clone the previous year's entry. Have we learned nothing from Cascada? Here's the video for "Sunlight":

I'm just going to lay this out here now: a lyric video is a terrible idea for any Eurovision entry((If you don't believe me, listen to the Game Time in the most recent (as of this writing) episode of Extra Hot Great.)), particularly if the country represented has English as its first language. The blandness of the track and uninspiring lyrics are not doing anyone any favors. Coupled with the fact that this is the second entry to have been selected in what will be an extremely crowded field, Ireland may not have solved any of the problems it currently faces at Eurovision.

My recommendation: take advantage of the time you have, Ireland, and revamp or replace this entry.

First Listen: Spain Hopes You Will "Say Yay" Wed, 03 Feb 2016 02:45:00 -0600 ff5d1428-44df-40c8-a840-d1fed201633d After Edurne's disappointing finish in 2015, Spain returned to a national final in the hopes of finding a crowd favorite for Stockholm. Will Barei inspire fans to say yay or meh?

Last year's Spanish entrant, "Amanacer" by Edurne, absolutely did not deserve its 21st-place finish, at least judging by its current play count in my music library. Can "Say Yay," Barei's mid-tempo dance number, find its way into my favorites playlist? Let's take a peek:

Let me get this out of the way: I AM SO DISAPPOINTED that this song isn't in Spanish. Spain has been one of the few countries that has reliably resisted the move towards English. A few of their recent entries have included portions in both languages, but this is the first time ever that their entry will be fully in English.((Thank goodness we still have France.)) Of course, that could change between now and the contest, but given how often Barei sings in English, I'd be shocked if it did.

Otherwise, I think "Say Yay" has a whole lot of potential. At the moment, though, it's a mismatch of awesomeness and WTF-ness. I love Barei's makeup and hair, but that hospital-gown of a dress and sneakers just are not working for me. Her voice is fantastic when she sings, not so great when she resorts to yelling. I'm not completely sure what she's saying most of the time, but she's singing with confidence, and I've learned to just accept Eurovision lyrics for what they are.((Mostly. I'm still trying to figure out what "oximated" means.)) At this early juncture, it's possible Spain could be in the running for the Barbara Dex award, but I'm hopeful they'll polish things up.

First Listen: Malta Sends a "Chameleon" Tue, 02 Feb 2016 19:00:00 -0600 f1c49ec3-4db9-4696-afe8-bcb98b193292 Ira Losco represents Malta as a "Chameleon", but blends in a little too well.

After failing to make the finals last year (blame it on one too many entries titled "Warrior"), Malta's back and determined to make the Grand Final with Ira Losco and "Chameleon".  Let's take a listen:

It's a good performance from Ira, and the song seems decent, but it also feels like what I'd consider a run-of-the-mill Eurovision entry.  This definitely has the uplifting feel of a good Eurovision song, and some good instrumentation, but the lyrics feel like very standard (and yet disconnected - "We Are Invincible" gets mentioned way more than the namesake chameleon in the chorus).  Same with the presentation of this song - it's nice, but feels like any of dozens of previous Eurovision performances.  If Malta really wants to take it all the way to the final, they'll need to step it up with something a little more exciting.

First Listen: Belarus Wants to "Help You Fly" Sun, 31 Jan 2016 19:15:00 -0600 ed252a4e-d96b-49a6-8ca7-7679a9225f67 IVAN looks to return Belarus to the ESC Grand Final with his song, "Help You Fly."

As the first former Soviet republic to make its Eurovision 2016 pick, Belarus has decided to send IVAN with "Help You Fly" to the contest in Stockholm. How'd they do? Take a listen:

We're only three songs into the ESC 2016 selection process and we already have our first hot mess! Ignoring all of the visual elements for a moment, the most memorable parts of this performance are the pitchiness of the lead singer, and the backing singers that sound unsure if they came in at the right time. It's not a terrible song, really, just a mediocre one with a mediocre performance.((Although I might call those high notes in the last third terrible.)) Considering the existing visuals, there is a lot here that has worked for others in the past -- the CGI reminiscent of Sweden in 2015, the wings that call back to Austria 2014 -- but in this case there's no talented and charismatic singer to tie it all together.

In short, Belarus has a lot of work ahead with this entry if they want a return trip to the Finals.

First Listen: "What's the Pressure" for Belgium Sun, 31 Jan 2016 18:45:00 -0600 fe035d2b-9ae4-4742-9b24-8a213e9e9b64 Having found their rhythm last year with Loïc Nottet, Belgium looks to Laura Tesoro to continue the success in Stockholm.

At the 2016 Eurosong contest, actress and singer Laura Tesoro beat out four other contestants to win a trip to Stockholm next May. Take a listen to her song, "What's the Pressure?"

This song has a lot going for it at a very early point in the ESC cycle; I'm a sucker for any song with a great bass line, and one that's reminiscent of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" is an extra bonus. Overall, "What's the Pressure?" is well-produced and feels radio ready, with a singable melody, danceable beat, and uplifting message. Australia's fifth-place finish last year proved that funk can be successful at the Contest, and Belgium is well-poised to make that a trend. That's not to say this is a perfect entry; Laura Tesoro's voice reminds me of Audra Mae, which is a good thing, except she's missing some of AM's strength and huskiness. It makes me wonder whether this song will translate as well from the recording studio to the stage, especially after a long pre-Contest promotional tour.

In any case, we've got a strong contender early in the selection season -- congrats to Belgium, and to Laura Tesoro!

First Listen: Albania Makes the First Eurovision 2016 Selection Mon, 28 Dec 2015 17:00:00 -0600 3be75f06-86e3-4d51-9f76-07d67c00cca5 And so it begins: the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest selection season! Albania's Eneda Tarifa will be going to Stockholm with some version of "Përrallë" ("Fairytale").<!--more-->

Albania's 54th edition of Festivali i Këngës became the first venue where we learned both which artist and which song will be going to the 61st edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. The artist will be Eneda Tarifa, a television presenter and veteran of many Albanian singing competitions (much like last year's representative Elhaida Dani). The song presented at FiK was "Përrallë" -- take a listen:

One of my hopes coming out of the 2015 ESC was that the trendsetting song for 2016 would be Latvia's "Love Injected" by Aminata. I think Albania may have gotten that memo, though there is some work to be done. First, the song will need to be shortened by 30 seconds. Presumably this will get translated to English, so the rewrite process could easily address that concern.

The bigger obstacle dates back to the last time Sweden hosted Eurovision. "Përrallë" sounds like a stripped down version of Norway's 2013 entry "I Feed You My Love" by Margaret Berger. In Albania's defense, I much prefer Tarifa's song over the overly electronic performance from three years ago. However, if this comparison immediately jumps to mind after only one listen, it needs to be addressed.

In the meantime, congratulations to Eneda! We are all looking forward to the next five months on the way to Sweden!

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Video Hangout Sat, 23 May 2015 12:00:00 -0500 fddee044-1252-4a6c-9586-329131ed886c The WEIO Eurovision team gathered virtually Friday night to chat about this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Literally see what they had to say.<!--more-->

Dreams do come true: you can now watch three Americans who have zero standing in the Eurovision Song Contest go into a deep dive about this year's competition! The WEIO Eurovision Team (Ryan Brazell, Mike McComb, and Ben Smith) met up on a Google Hangout Friday to chat about this year's Contest. Topics include:

  • How Vienna is doing as a host
  • Wondering why there are four hosts
  • Conchita Wurst's next career moves
  • Surprises from the First Semi-Final
  • Disappointments in the Second Semi-Final
  • Handing out the Golden Hamster Wheel Award for Most Improved Entry
  • Celebrating accessibility for the deaf community
  • Speculation on the Big 5 + Austr*ia((Austria and Australia)
  • Predictions on Last Place

The video is a bit long, but use it as prep for your Eurovision party and you will be golden.

For additional commentary during today's Grand Final, be sure to follow @WEIOTV, @RyanBrazell, @Rube_Goldberg, and @BenMSmith on Twitter.

For those who are interested in the voting order, here is the list from

1) Montenegro (Andrea Demirović)

2) Malta (Julia Zahra)

3) Finland (Krista Siegfrids)

4) Greece (Helena Paparizou)

5) Portugal (Suzy)

6) Romania (Sonia Argint Ionescu)

7) Belarus (Teo)

8) Albania (Andria Xhahu)

9) Moldova (Olivia Fortuna)

10) Azerbaijan (Tural Asadou)

11) Latvia (Markus Riva)

12) Serbia (Maia Nikolić)

13) Estonia (Tania)

14) Denmark (Basim)

15) Switzerland (Laetitia Guarino)

16) Belgium (Walid)

17) France (Virginie Guillaume)

18) Armenia (Lilit Muradyan)

19) Ireland (Nicky Byrne)

20) Sweden (Mariette Hanson)

21) Germany (Barbara Schöneberger)

22) Australia (Lee Lin Chin)

23) Czech Republic (Daniela Písařovicová)

24) Spain (Lara Siscar)

25) Austria (Kati Bellowitsch)

26) F.Y.R. Macedonia (Marko Mark)

27) Slovenia (Tinkara Kovač)

28) Hungary (Csilla Tatár)

29) United Kingdom (Nigella Lawson)

30) Georgia (Natia Bunturi)

31) Lithuania (Ugnė Galadauskaitė)

32) Netherlands (Edsilia Rombley)

33) Poland (Cleo)

34) Israel (Ofer Nachshom)

35) Russia (Dmitry Shepelev)

36) San Marino (Valentina Monetta)

37) Italy (Federico Russo)

38) Iceland (Sigridur Halldorsdottir)

39) Cyprus (Loukas Hamatsos)

40) Norway (Margrethe Røed)

Good luck, contestants! It should be a fantastic Eurovision final!

Eurovision 2015 Semi-Final 2 Wrapup: The Final Invite List Fri, 22 May 2015 00:00:00 -0500 a839715f-5ffe-48cd-b491-2c7105e55b95 Votes from the second Semi-Final's juries and viewers are in! Who received the final ten invites to attend the Eurovision Song Contest's Grand Final?

The Eurovision Song Contest's second semi-final started off similarly to the first. Instead of a Rise Like a Phoenix reprise, though, we got a brief visual overview of Tuesday's semi-final, and a hearty welcome from the hosts before the parade-of-nations style introduction of performers. The hosts seemed less stiff time around, and the production more well-organized, with one major off-note: they apparently didn't make the green room platform fully accessible? Because instead of coming down from the platform and crossing the floor, Poland had to start at the bottom of the platform stairs and come onstage using a different path. Oops.

On a more positive note: in between the freshly-harmonized backing vocals and what seemed like a plague of pitchiness, we were treated to a heaping helping of Conchita looking stunning. Seriously:

[caption id="attachment_33990" align="alignnone" width="610"]Eurovision Song Contest Second Semi-Final: Live Part One (Photo: Andres Putting / EBU) Eurovision Song Contest Second Semi-Final: Live Part One (Photo: Andres Putting / EBU)[/caption]

Oh, yeah, and some great performances on the mainstage too: a sweet love ditty from Lithuania, intimate monsters from Norway, golden feet from Israel, and emotional support from Slovenia. The juries and voters have spoken, so without further ado, here are the final ten qualifying countries for Saturday's Grand Final:

Although not quite as good as Tuesday, our predictions for the second semi-final correctly placed eight qualifiers. We missed just Cyprus and Montenegro, both of which could reasonably be called spoilers. Of the nine rankings we used for our predictions, only two correctly predicted either Cyprus or Montenegro (with no ranking successfully predicting both). Meanwhile, the two countries we incorrectly predicted would qualify -- Iceland and Malta -- were relative favorites. Malta was predicted in six of nine categories, while Iceland was predicted in eight of nine. We might have been wrong, but at least we were in good company!

Other notes:

  • Every member of the WEIO team predicted Israel would place 9th. Israel played in the 9th spot tonight. Coincidence, or CONSPIRACY?((Rankings from the semi-finals won't be released until after the Grand Final.))
  • Israel has qualified for the first time since 2010, despite some strong performances over the last few years. Meanwhile Azerbaijan has qualified but appears to be losing its once-consistent grip on the Grand Final's top ten.
  • The final running order for the Grand Final has been announced; Slovenia will open the contest, so don't be late getting into your seat!

The Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest will take place Saturday at 9pm CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific. You can catch up with both semi-finals, and watch the Grand Final live, on the Eurovision YouTube channel. Be sure to check out the performances with International Sign Language interpretations! They're delightful, and in some cases better than the actual stage performances.((cough*Netherlands*cough))

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 Second Semi-Final: Our Predictions Thu, 21 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 72d4010f-08d0-4c9d-af32-4e414ba4f1da In just a few hours, seventeen countries will compete for the final ten spots in Saturday's Grand Final. After months of preparation, who will advance?

With Semi-Final 1 in the books, we now know most of the countries who will compete in Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final. Later today, seventeen more countries will compete for the final ten spots. Who's it gonna be?

A quick recap about the methodology we used to generate these predictions: each member of the WEIO Eurovision coverage team (Ben, Mike, Ryan) ranked the entries three times. The first ranking was just to get a sense of what we liked and didn’t once all the entries were selected, and does not factor into our final scores. For our second and third rankings, we individually compared each entry against the others in the field asking the question “which entry is more likely to qualify.” (You might be surprised how much some entries changed from ranking to ranking!) We also incorporated the press center votes, YouTube views of the second rehearsal videos, and the betting odds from Then some math determined the ten best-scoring entries.

Our official prediction for the second Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final, in alphabetical order, is:

The group was much more in agreement about this semi-final; seven of the ten countries we predict will advance landed in the top ten of all categories. (The WEIO team was also fairly consistent in our rankings within the top ten, with all three of us predicting the exact same finish for Israel.) Of the remaining seven countries in this semi-final -- Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ireland, Montenegro, Portugal, San Marino, Switzerland -- none showed up in the top ten of more than two categories, and two were completely shut out.

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest airs live at 9pm CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific and can be watched on the official Eurovision page. Good luck to everyone!

Eurovision 2015 Semi-Final 1 Wrapup: Who Got the Party Started in Vienna? Tue, 19 May 2015 22:45:00 -0500 e2870026-b9cc-4116-a6bd-a57ea60358e8 Sixteen countries competed in Tuesday's semi-final of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Which ones will continue to party in Saturday's Grand Final?<!--more-->

The 60th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest got underway in Vienna, Austria Tuesday, with 16 countries competing for ten spots in the Grand Final taking place on Saturday.

The show opened with last year's champion (and this year's green room hostess) Conchita Wurst reprising her winning song Rise Like a Phoenix. After introductions, the Contest began in earnest with hot cops from Moldova, inclusive punk from Finland, confidence boosts from Serbia, and ending with interesting vocabulary from Georgia. After votes from juries and viewers in the participating and designated((Austria, France, Spain, and special guest Australia)) countries, these are the ten that advanced to Saturday's Grand Final:

If you checked out our predictions post from earlier today, you would see we did a pretty good job in identifying nine of the ten qualifiers.((Not to be too smug, but I got 10/10 in my personal rankings.)) Our one miss was selecting Belarus over Romania. With our process, we rated Belarus quite high in our April rankings though rehearsal footage seemed to indicate a subdued performance. Unfortunately, the actual performance underwhelmed but our methodology caused the song to rank to high to fall out of favor. With Romania, the song never really latched on. However, the rehearsals indicated the song "De la capat (All Over Again)" played better live, which likely worked in Romania's favor. Also, do not doubt the power of the Romanian diaspora, particularly when the song is explicitly about the Romanian diaspora.

Other items of note:

  • Greece, Romania, and Russia all maintain their perfect streak of appearing in Eurovision.
  • Hungary may have played the spoiler for a number of Eurovision pools. The bookmakers, the press, and YouTube viewers did not have the song in their top 10, and it was also our bubble pick. This is the country's fifth-straight qualification since returning to the Contest in 2011.
  • Armenia, Belgium, Estonia and Serbia will perform in the first half of Saturday's Grand Final. Albania, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Russia will perform in the second half.

The second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest will take place Thursday at 9pm CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific. You can catch up with Tuesday's semi-final and watch Thursday's semi-final live (and with International Sign Language interpretation!) on the Eurovision YouTube channel.

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 First Semi-Final: Our Predictions Tue, 19 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 8aea0a6c-1929-4cd3-88ba-4d95e3833bb2 It's finally here! The first semi-final of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. After months of speculation, which ten entries do we think will advance to Saturday's Grand Final?<!--more-->

It's finally here! The first semi-final of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. After months of speculation, which ten entries do we think will advance to Saturday's Grand Final?

First, let's talk about methodology. Ben, Mike, and Ryan ranked the entries three times. The first ranking was just to get a sense of what we liked and what we didn't once all the entries were selected in mid-March. This ranking did not factor into our final scores, but did help us gauge improvement (or disappointment) over time. Our second ranking was in mid-April, shortly after the Eurovision in Concert event in Amsterdam. We each compared each individual entry against the others in the field asking the question "which entry is more likely to qualify." We used this same ranking process this past weekend after watching all the rehearsal footage on the Eurovision YouTube page.

However, we are not so vain that we didn't take other people's opinions into account.((Besides, we're not in Europe, so we have very little "on the ground" information.)) We also incorporated the press center votes((Thanks to ESCXtra for posting those results)), the YouTube views of the second rehearsal videos on the Eurovision YouTube page, and the betting odds from Then we((rather, GoogleSheets)) did some arithmetic top secret quantum analysis and determined the ten best-scoring entries.

Our official prediction for the first Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final, in alphabetical order, is:

It's safe to say that this semi-final lacks any kind of consensus as to which countries will advance. Only six of these entries were in the top ten across all categories, which means four of these picks are strictly "maybe?" Also, of the six countries which didn't make our list (Denmark, Finland, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Netherlands, and Romania), five of them were in at least one category's top ten. Who knew this semi-final would be so competitive?

The first semi final of the Eurovision Song Contest airs live at 9pm CET / 3pm Eastern / 12pm Pacific and can be watched on the official Eurovision page. Good luck to everyone!

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Australia — Guy Sebastian — Tonight Again Fri, 08 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 ea1ffa2c-3798-404e-b9af-f0d4736e2dab We close out our coverage of this year's 40 Eurovision Song Contest entries with a look at Australia's entry "Tonight Again" by Guy Sebastian.

Country: Australia
Song Title: "Tonight Again"
Artist: Guy Sebastian
Last year's entry: None, but there was that Jessica Mauboy interval act.

It's not actually that surprising that Eurovision is finally letting Australia play with them.  Besides the island's connection to Europe, they've been broadcasting the contest in some form since 1983.  In 2006, they started airing the UK's commentary on top of the show, and since 2009 they've had their own commentators at the event.  While SBS (the Australian broadcaster) has done an "unofficial" Aussie vote since 2010, this is the first year where Australia will have an official say in the matter, and an official contestant representing them.  No pressure, Guy Sebastian.  How has time updated our opinions here at WEIO Eurovision Headquarters?


I still like this entry as a song, but I have a few thoughts as to why it may not do quite as well as people think.  First, the more I listen to this song, the more derivative it feels.  Sure, it's pulling from what's going on in the radio right now with its more soul-influenced sound, but I was hoping for something a little more original than a Sam Smith/"Uptown Funk" ripoff.  Especially given the campier pop culture Australia's contributed to the world, it's a little disappointing to me that their entry's so middle of the road.

When it comes down to the voting, I think the rest of the EBU that votes in this are either really going to like this song and shower it with points, or will really going to disagree with this outsider nation waltzing((Matilda)) in without even needing to qualify for the semis and shut it out.  I don't see this landing in the middle of the rankings - it's either near the top or near the bottom.  I don't think SBS needs to start worrying about which European capital they want to hold things in for 2016, though - there are enough other entries of "Tonight Again"'s caliber that have enough home-region support to hold down the fort.


Big Five slackers((you know who you are)) take note: this is how you do a submission that bypasses the semi-finals. "Tonight Again" rivals Slovenia and Belarus in overall catchiness, the lyrics are on point, and it brings the appropriate level of "party" to the proceedings. If any other country submitted this song, I think it would still be sitting near the top of the favorites list just as it is now. I think Australia's overall success is going to depend on how much sway Eurovision purists have on voting and the juries. Although the theme of this year's Contest is "Building Bridges", expanding the competition well beyond the EBU's range may still rub people the wrong way. This will become even more complicated if Australia wins, as their one-time-only appearance may get an extended run.


After listening more closely and realizing just how strong this year's field is, I'm still very bullish on Guy Sebastian. This is a well-constructed and catchy radio-ready song with no obvious major flaws, and no direct competition from other entries in the same genre. If I have any complaint, it's that I personally would love to hear a little less pop and a little more funk. But that's a strategic decision, and likely a wise one -- Australia knows and loves Eurovision possibly more than anyone. Could this entry win? Ehhh ... I think "Tonight Again" lands easily in the top five. There are just too many other great songs from nations that have geopolitical allies to count on. I wouldn't be surprised to see Australia get a ton of 10s and 8s, but not quite enough 12s to land on top.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Italy — Il Volo — Grande Amore Thu, 07 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 e5a9ea6f-cb26-4971-8421-8057e9204f93 Will televoters and juries have "Grand Amore" for Italy's Il Volo at the Eurovision Song Contest final? Let's hope so.

Country: Italy
Song Title: "Grand Amore"
Artist: Il Volo
Last year's entry: "La Mia Citta"  - Emma (21st Place)((Although Italy finished with nul points in 1966, this is the lowest ranked the country has ever been in the Contest.))

Italy returned to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011 after a lengthy hiatus and has been on a tear ever since. Of its last four entries, three have finished in the top 10. The outlier--last year's entry by Emma--was the one of the four not selected by way of Italy's Sanremo festival, a multistage music competition. Italy learned from its mistake and returned to Sanremo to select this year's entry "Grande Amore" by the trio Il Volo.

This may be the year Italy wins. First of all, this song is fantastic. Operatic performances at Eurovision have been a decidedly mixed, with Romania's entry in 2013 finishing in the middle of the pack and France's entry in 2011, a favorite to win that year, finishing in 15th. The guys of Il Volo are not countertenors nor are they dressed like Chocobo jockeys, so they are already ahead of the game. We know they are capable of delivering this song in a live performance, which is one of the major hurdles with a song of this nature. The challenge for them is compressing the song into three minutes, but listening to the official track from the Eurovision album indicates that difficulty of the song has not increased nor has the content suffered due to editing.

The other reason Italy could win: politics. I'm not talking Politics like Armenia's or Hungary's entries((After all, Eurovision is not a poli--I can't get through this with a straight face.)), but rather the politics of the game that is the Eurovision Song Contest. Although Italy's song in 2011 was fantastic, some of the points that helped to get that entry to second place carried the message "welcome back, please stay!" Following that with two more top ten finishes indicates Italy is serious about Eurovision on the same level as Sweden, Russia, and Azerbaijan--three countries that have won the Contest in the last seven years and have kept residence in the top ten a good chunk of that time. The Contest has not spent much time in Southern Europe, with Greece and Serbia((If Serbia even counts as Southern Europe)) as the only countries in that region to win since Italy last won in 1990.

Ultimately, it may come down to a battle of charisma between Italy, Australia, and Sweden on the Final stage. Awesome.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: France — Lisa Angell — N'oubliez Pas Wed, 06 May 2015 11:00:00 -0500 621dba27-9cf8-4808-81e1-655e18fa9648 France will do better than they did last year at the Eurovision Song Contest, but is that saying much?

Country: France
Song Title: "N'oubliez Pas"
Artist: Lisa Angell
Last year's entry: "Moustache" - Twin Twin (26th Place)

France is one of the easiest countries to pick out of a lineup of randomly selected Eurovision songs((and not just because it'll be the entry that's in French when all the rest are in English)).  Every once in a while, the French will pick something a bet more out there (like last year's "Moustache", which I enjoyed but which fell completely flat with the Eurovision audience), but they tend to stick to their comfort zone of ballads and torch songs.  Given the poor reception Twin Twin got, it doesn't surprise me they've gone running back to that well with this year's entry, Lisa Angell's "N'oubliez Pas":

This is a pleasant song, and it's nicely sung, but it does nothing for me, especially in a field with plenty of slower songs this year.  While I think it's likely France won't be dead last with this song again, I an't say I see them cracking the top 10 either.  Lisa's voice is nice, and she gives the lyrics the right amount of emotional heft, but the melody doesn't get stuck in my head like other entries this year have.

Just based on the song, I can't imagine the staging will be much more imaginative than Lisa standing on stage and letting the cameras do the motion work.  That's fine, since you shouldn't need to put on a full song and dance if the material doesn't require it, but I can't help but feel this song's going to be ignored by most of the telemeters no matter where it ends up in the lineup of the finals.  France will do better than last year this year, but I'm not sure that's anything to really be proud of.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: United Kingdom — Electro Velvet — Still In Love With You Tue, 05 May 2015 15:00:00 -0500 8fb03814-785c-46f9-8a95-8ddcbd0ac8e6 Go home, United Kingdom -- you're drunk.

Country: United Kingdom
Song Title: "Still In Love With You "
Artist: Electro Velvet
Last year's entry: "Children of the Universe" - Molly (17th Place)

Through the first 25 years of the Contest, the UK amassed four wins, ten silver medals, and two bronze medals with an average finish just outside the top three. The mid-80s, 90s, and early 00s were only a little less kind to the UK, with another win from Katrina and the Waves, four more silvers, another bronze, and an average finish between 6th and 7th. But starting with the UK's first last-place finish in the 2003 Contest, things have really started to go off the rails. Since then, the Big Five nation has finished last three times (once with the dreaded nul points), cracked the top ten only once (5th place in 2009), and cultivated an average finish between 19th and 20th. (Ooof.) This, despite dragging in name-brand stars like Blue, Bonnie Tyler, and Engelbert Humperdinck. It seems like the UK is still in love with Eurovision, but is Eurovision still in love with the UK?

BLACK. FACE. Y'ALL. Look, Eurovision is no stranger to cultural appropriation -- and I don't mean the kind where you hire Americans to represent you. (That's fine, Germany -- you do you.) I mean the kind where you wear a Native American headdress, which some people might defend as a stylistic choice. But I feel like blackface might be the one thing that the vast majority of people recognize and accept is A Bad Thing To Do, Stay Far Far Away. I was so surprised and distracted by the audible blackface that I totally missed the blatant misogyny in the lyrics the first several times I watched this video! So, good job United Kingdom.

It's sad because this is actually a song that could be pretty great. I love music that takes two different ideas and puts them together in a compelling way. This combination of swing & electronic music is a great idea that could be awesome, but it's not executed well. The lyrics are insipid, and although the beat is catchy, there's no arc to the song, just some sections put back-to-back and some weird meta-commentary. It isn't working very well for Israel ("Okay, three minutes, gotta go, bye bye") and it doesn't work here for the UK, either ("Sounding good, sugar!"). I'm also concerned about the presentation ... this video makes extensive use of dozens of dancers, while at the Contest they'll be limited to two at most. How will they generate the energy this song needs to do well?

I think the easy answer is: they won't. This is a bad entry for a lot of reasons. Even if "Still In Love With You" did inspire one of the best mashups I have seen in a long time, it's still going to do poorly. The oddsmakers have this song sitting around 10th overall, but I think the United Kingdom will be jockeying for position with Germany in the bottom third of the Grand Final. The upside? We'll get to hear Graham Norton's take on the whole mess. I can't wait.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Germany — Ann Sophie — Black Smoke Mon, 04 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 fe668509-4e61-4a1d-8bde-08b73759badf Can Ann Sophie bring back the awkward charm that led Germany to a win in 2010?

Country: Germany
Song Title: "Black Smoke"
Artist: Ann Sophie
Last year's entry: "Is It Right" - Elaiza (18th Place)

Germany, one of the "Big Five" Eurovision supporters, is also the nation with the best attendance record. Even prior to reunification, Germany has competed in some fashion, occasionally as West Germany, in every Contest except 1996. Despite being ESC's biggest financial supporter that year, Germany failed to qualify out of an audio-only prequalification round. I doubt it's any coincidence that the Big Five have been allowed to automatically progress to the Grand Final since in 1998. In any case, changing the rules hasn't helped Germany much lately. In the past ten years, they've won once, but cracked the top ten on only two other occasions, with an average rank of 16th place. Can Ann Sophie bring back the awkward charm that led Lena to a win in 2010?

As Mike noted in his First Listen, the fact that Ann Sophie is headed to Vienna at all is a bit of a surprise. The winner of Germany's internal selection process declined to accept the invitation, which then fell to the runner-up, "Black Smoke." There are definitely some good things happening in this song -- for example, Ann Sophie's voice, which is strong and clear above the rest of the arrangement.

Unfortunately, I can see why this entry lost by an almost 4-to-1 margin in the televote. For one thing: this song is about a relationship that is falling (or has fallen) apart, yet we find Ann Sophie smiling broadly for the camera throughout the performance. More painfully, the groove is totally wrong. The percussion has a really nice, sorta jazzy backbeat going on, but Ann Sophie's lyrics perpetually hit right on the beat, or in some cases even a little ahead. And I have no idea what is going on with the staging and choreography (or lack thereof). Having a quirky and somewhat awkward female lead worked really well for Germany in 2010, but that's partially because Lena was quirky and awkward in one place while letting the camera do the work for her. Overall the total package of this entry is jarring and uncomfortable, and not in a positive way.

It's a good thing "Black Smoke" doesn't have to fight its way out of the semifinals, because I don't think it would stand a chance. The more I listen to this year's competitors, the more I realize just how deep the field is. This isn't a terrible entry, but neither is it a great or good one. Most of the not-great-or-even-good entries will be filtered out before the Grand Final. As a result, I'll be expecting Germany to land somewhere in the bottom third. (It's possible they will have to host the contest next year anyway.)

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Austria — The Makemakes — I Am Yours Sun, 03 May 2015 10:00:00 -0500 1aab5771-3de6-44f2-8ebe-e0dd1837c23a This year's Eurovision host Austria will be building a bridge between the first and second half of the final with "I Am Yours" by the Makemakes.

Country: Austria
Song Title: "I Am Yours"
Artist: The Makemakes
Last year's entry: "Rise Like a Phoenix"  - Conchita Wurst((Queen of Europe.)) (1st Place)

Yay Austria! Back in 2012, the country finished in absolute last place in Baku with the awesome-yet-completely wrong for the Eurovision Song Contest entry "Woki mit dem Popo" by Trackshittaz. The runner-up for that year's national selection: Conchita Wurst. Don't call it a comeback: she's been here for years. Were the field not so ridiculously strong last year, "Rise Like a Phoenix" could have rivaled "Fairytale" and "Euphoria" in breaking scoreboard records. Regardless, Austria executed a flawless entry and deserved the win.

One of the perks of winning is getting an automatic berth in the Eurovision final. Did Austria take full advantage of this with its selection of "I Am Yours" by the Makemakes?

As Ben noted shortly after this song was selected, "I Am Yours" hits all three criteria expected of a host nation for the Eurovision Song Contest. The Makemakes are not a clone of Conchita Wurst, "I Am Yours" is a solid song demonstrating Austria's win was not a fluke, yet the song is not strong enough to topple the rest of the field.

It could be argued that "I Am Yours" would not make it out of the semi-finals were it to compete as a normal entry. However, I think the reasons why it wouldn't succeed demonstrates the strength of the song. There's a '70s Classic/Glam Rock vibe associated with the track, but the Makemakes seem to be genuine in their styling rather than trying to satirize the genre. Were they to show up in hot pink jumpsuits, that would be a problem.((I would argue the guitarists print pants are about as close to the line as the group can get without crossing it.)) Instead, the group delivers a solid vocal and a respectable performance. The piano bursting into flames is a bit much, but this year might be lacking in pyrotechnics overall so the group should keep it.

This song will perform in slot 14 in the final, which is right in the middle of the show. This is perfect placement for the track, as it will serve as the bridge between the front half and the back half of the event. "I Am Yours" could make a run for the top half of the scoreboard with a solid performance in Vienna.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Spain — Edurne — Amanecer Fri, 01 May 2015 11:00:00 -0500 f48895d6-2f9d-4ae6-9249-952f5f446ab2 Is Spain even trying to win the Eurovision Song Contest with Edurne's "Amanacer"?

Country: Spain
Song Title: "Amanecer"
Artist: Edurne
Last year's entry: "Dancing In The Rain"((THE RAIN! THE RAIN! THE RAIN!)) - Ruth Lorenzo (10th Place)

We're finally getting down to the Big 5 for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, and I get to kick things off with Spain.  I'm going to be honest: I haven't liked a Spanish Eurovision entry since 2008's "Baila El Chiki-Chiki".  There's something in the entries they choose that feels just a little too bland and middle-of-the-road for my taste, and although they surprised me with how well they did last year (10th!), generally I've agreed with the bottom-scraping placements they've had the past few years before.  It just feels like Spain is going through the motions when it comes to selecting their entries:

Aside from the delightfully terrible special effects in the video above((that feel straight off the cutting room floor of The Quest)), Edurne's "Amanacer" does nothing for me, musically.  I appreciate the nod to dubsteppiness in the backing track, but I feel that there are at least 2 or 3 female-led ballads in the competition that are better and more unique.  The pacing feels a little slow to me as well - it's only 3 minutes, but it feels like an Edurnity((I refuse to apologize for this terrible, terrible play on words)).  I think Spain's lucky they're part of the Big 5 - without that guaranteed "in", I'm not sure this entry has the charisma it would need to sneak into the finals.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Slovenia — Maraaya — Here For You Thu, 30 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 c82b5d5b-96ae-4670-b72a-accdd1943fd5 Slovenia has been pretty down, down low. Will any other country heal their aching soul with some votes?

Country: Slovenia
Song Title: "Here For You"
Artist: Maraaya
Semi-Final: Second, Position 16
Last year's entry: "Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovač (25th Place)

Slovenia's had a rough time at Eurovision. Since their debut in 1993, they have failed to qualify (or chosen not to participate at all) about as many times as they have made it to the Grand Final. They haven't qualified for the Grand Final two years in a row since 2002-2003. And, unfortunately, the two countries that have been the most generous during voting with Slovenia (neighbor Croatia along with Bosnia and Herzegovina) haven't participated since 2013 and 2012, respectively. Slovenia is pretty down, down low. Will any other country heal their aching soul?

Along with the rest of the Eurovision coverage team here at WEIO (and even the bookies), I am pretty bullish on this song, even if it took a few listens for me to get on board. Part of my hesitance was that I couldn't understand the lyrics. In some cases (cough*Sweden*cough) that's a positive thing, but "Here For You" is actually well written. I appreciate the combination of the retro jazzy feel with a strong, danceable beat. Also, the message of the song is universal without being too vague. But honestly, the part of this song that makes me the happiest is the performance from the national selection process.

Ben did a great job of breaking down what was happening in that performance, so I won't recreate that here -- just go read his previous post. I will, however, add a question: are the headphones on the singer's head functional or simply aesthetic? I don't care, except it totally dampens the effect of the wind machine when it abruptly cuts on in the middle of the song. Instead of a beautiful, flowing effect a la Loreen or Emmelie de Forest, her hair ends up just flapping around the edges of her face. Which isn't entirely unattractive, it's just not as dramatic as it could be.

Unlike Ben, I have no qualms about the fact that I want this staging to go all in. The national selection only used three performers. That is three whole more people that could be doing something ridiculous! I think this song will do very well even without a great performance. But if Slovenia can bring the weird, I can see this entry easily placing top ten.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Estonia — Elina Born & Stig Rästa — Goodbye to Yesterday Wed, 29 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 919f016e-e8fe-43d6-bd02-da5bd7704602 We close out our Eurovision 2015 coverage of the first semi-final with "Goodbye to Yesterday" by Elina Born & Stig Rästa. Will Estonia ride its status as favorite all the way to the top of the scoreboard?

Country: Estonia
Song Title: "Goodbye to Yesterday"
Artist: Elina Born & Stig Rästa
Semi-Final: First, Position #7
Last year's entry: "Amazing" - Tanja (Did Not Qualify - 12th Place, SF1)

Estonia knows how to bounce back after disappointing results in the Eurovision Song Contest. After struggling for several years to qualify for the Final when semi-finals were introduced in 2004, Estonia finished in 6th place in 2009. Another miss in 2010 was followed by "Rockefeller Street" being considered a favorite to win in Dusseldorf. That didn't quite happen((24th out of 25. Oops.)), but "Kuula" in 2012 scored another 6th place finish. Estonia missed the final last year((I'm still a little surprised about that.)), so does that mean Elina Born & Stig Rästa's "Goodbye to Yesterday" could be poised for a 6th (or better) placing?

Yes. Absolutely yes.

Once again Estonia finds itself a favorite of the bookmakers in what I consider to be the more competitive of the two semi-finals. "Goodbye to Yesterday" is incredibly pop-friendly without underlining that it is a pop song or falling into the trap of being a "Eurovision Song." This song's biggest strength is that it could exist completely outside of the Eurovision ecosystem and be a major success. It's a strategy that works for Italy, will work for Australia, and did work for the Netherlands last year.

The second-greatest strength of this entry lies with Elina Born & Stig Rästa's performance. Though "Goodbye to Yesterday" is low-key and almost dour, there is a charisma that peeks through the vocals and story of the song that is difficult to resist. I don't expect the stage performance to be all that different from when the song was selected in Estonia's national final((aside from replacing the Ikea lamps)), but the song doesn't require a flashy presentation.

The only hurdle I can see causing a low placement in the Final would be a bad position in the running order. I think this entry may need to be in the second half of the show if it wants to secure a top 10 finish. The subtleties of the song could be forgotten if it appears to early in the lineup, and if a lot of the duets in this year's field advance it could make differentiating between tracks a little tricky. The good news is that this song should pair nicely with whatever comes before or after it, so that should allow the producers some flexibility in giving "Goodbye to Yesterday" the best position to shine.

Good luck Estonia! We're rooting for you!

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Sweden — Måns Zelmerlöw — Heroes Tue, 28 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 eae9c006-d3bc-445d-bbb0-704312664c83 Is Måns Zelmerlöw's "Heroes" super enough to get Sweden their second Eurovision victory in 4 years?

Country: Sweden
Song Title: "Heroes"
Artist: Måns Zelmerlöw
Semi-Final: Second, Position 13
Last year's entry: "Undo"  - Sanna Nielsen (3rd Place)

Sweden is a pop powerhouse both inside and outside the Eurovision Song Contest.  It's a little scary.  Their prowess for writing memorable hooks in both the regular ((Max Martin and any number of his proteges)) and indie((Robyn, anything coming out of Gothenburg)) pop worlds gives them a pedigree when it comes to contests like Eurovision.  Outside their own entries, it's not uncommon to see Swedish writers elsewhere in the credits for songs that enter the competition.  2012's "Euphoria" blew its competition out of the water and managed to make the enormous Baku Crystal Hall feel intimate in scale with Loreen's performance.  Sanna Nielsen's "Undo" wasn't my favorite song they've ever sent((and I still argue that her "I'm in Love" should have beaten Eric Saade's whiny "Popular" as Sweden's entry years back)), but it was a well-written power ballad that deservedly earned its third place slot.  It definitely feels like Sweden's gunning for 1st place again - is Måns Zelmerlöw's "Heroes" super enough to get Sweden their second Eurovision victory in 4 years?

Of all the entries this year, I think "Heroes" represents everything I tend to look for in a Eurovision winner.  It's energetic((which doesn't necessarily mean it's uptempo - "Rise Like a Phoenix" also had a lot of great energy)), anthemic in nature, catchy (much like "Undo"'s chorus, this one has lodged in my brain various times through the review process), and has a memorable stage presentation.  Sweden is really good about thinking all details of a performance out((which I think at least partially comes from the Melodifestivalen selection process)), and this year is no exception.

In our most recent ranking here at WEIO Eurovision Headquarters, "Heroes" has been a fairly steady lock for getting to the finals.  The little gnome graphics are in the process of being changed due to some sort of copyright issue, but they were my least favorite part of the interactive graphics that were being used, so I'm interested to see how the final performance changes.  The current lyric video they've put up in its place has an unfortunate side effect of making me realize how nonsensical some of the verse lyrics are, but that also feels like another Eurovision norm.  Is "Heroes" unstoppable this year?  Only the finals will tell.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Armenia — Genealogy — Face the Shadow Mon, 27 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 eafa864c-863c-4732-93af-917485d2c5cd On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Genealogy pretends its entry isn't political. After a strong 2014, can Armenia keep its momentum going?

Country: Armenia
Song Title: "Face the Shadow"
Artist: Genealogy
Semi-Final: First, Position 2
Last year's entry: "Not Alone" - Aram Mp3 (4th Place)

Armenia is one of the most recent additions to the Eurovision Song Contest, having joined in 2006. Except for a small skid in 2011 (missed the Grand Final by one point), 2012 (did not participate), and 2013 (18th place), Armenia has been a mainstay in the top ten. Last year's entry, "Not Alone" by Aram Mp3, spent a good part of the pre-Contest buzz as a favorite to win before eventually landing in 4th place. Can Armenia keep the momentum going for a return to top-ten glory?

First, a quick update: after Mike's great breakdown of the geopolitical situation surrounding this song, the EBU "suggested" that Genealogy change the name of their entry in order to remove any suggestion of political intent.((I don't find the new title any less political, but whatevs.)) While I'm happy this song is now vague enough to appease the powers-that-be (and am also pleased Turkey will not be present at the Contest this year to wreak havoc) I'm thoroughly unconvinced this isn't a political entry. Armenia has conformed to the letter of the 'law' here, but not the spirit.((That is not a complaint! Frankly: good for them.))

From a musical standpoint, I am a fan of this song. I like that each of the six singers gets a solo opportunity so we can hear the differences in their voices, and how powerful and lush it is when they all sing together. I like that the middle and end sections sound like a super angsty Broadway number. I love it when the percussion switches up the beat, and the guitar wail at the end. There's a lot of great threads being woven together in this power ballad. But....

In the music video for this entry, we don't get any sense of the singers' gracefulness on stage. Armenia is using all of their allowed stage performers for vocalists, leaving nobody to provide visual interest and interpretation through movement. The same is true of Hungary this year (well, five vocalists and a guitar player sitting on a stool), but theirs is a traditional ballad that calls for a quieter setting. We haven't yet seen the Eurovision stage, but it's possible that Armenia could be taking a cue from last year's performance by Aram Mp3, which cleverly used lighting and CGI (and fire and wind machines of course) to collapse and then expand the stage as necessary.

If Armenia can figure out what to do with six singers onstage, I think they'll easily make it into the Grand Final. Beyond that? It will be hard in such a strong and crowded field to best last year's finish or crack the top five, but I think another top-ten finish is a real possibility.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: San Marino — Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini — Chain of Lights Sun, 26 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 4a578556-0da5-4844-b7c1-0cbddc9a801a Will San Marino's "Chain of Lights" by Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini be the next link in a chain of Eurovision Song Contest final appearances?

Country: San Marino
Song Title: "Chain of Lights"
Artist: Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini
Semi-Final: Second, Position 3
Last year's entry: "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta (24th Place)

Just like Montenegro, San Marino returns to the Eurovision Song Contest following its first appearance in the Final. For the microstate's sixth entry ever in the Contest, we will not be seeing perennial representative Valentina Monetta but rather two Junior Eurovision alums: Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini. Will their track "Chain of Lights" link up with televoters and juries?

If "Chain of Lights" feels rather Eurovision-y, there are two good reasons for that: the song's writers Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger (AKA John O'Flynn) each have lengthy resumes related to the Contest. Siegel wrote San Marino's last three entries (elements of which can be found throughout this track), and the duo collaborated on several entries, including Germany's winning song in 1982 and Montenegro's 2009 entry (which just missed qualifying for the Final). I suppose having a track record allows for a steady writing gig, but aside from the win more than three decades ago, the songs do not seem to resonate when it comes to points.

Which leads to another issue with this entry: the Eurovision-y nature of the song and the incredibly young singers give the presentation an almost Disney on Ice aura. I don't mean that to discredit the talent of Perniola or Simoncini, but the song lacks gravitas, which is an important factor for a successful entry. Although it occupies the positive end of the duet spectrum with Lithuania, the latter entry gets to its point much faster and draws the audience in. "Chain of Lights" feels like it is trying to build up to something, but the payoff isn't overly satisfying.

What works in San Marino's favor is its placement in the lineup. This track will counter the blandness of Ireland's entry and has Montenegro as a buffer from Malta. Also, San Marino has built up a lot of goodwill the last few years, which may start paying off with some countries throwing some points their way. The qualification bubble is large for this year's second semi-final, and 3 or 4 points here and there could make the difference.

To be honest, I'm rooting for San Marino not because of "Chain of Lights", but because I like underdogs. I hope this advances, even if it ends up finishing in last place in the Final.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Russia — Polina Gagarina — A Million Voices Fri, 24 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 74367a07-083c-4aca-888d-bab3e332107a Are "A Million Voices" enough to distract us from Russia's political situation and focus on their Eurovision entry?

Country: Russia
Song Title: "A Million Voices"
Artist: Polina Gagarina
Semi-Final: First, Position 12
Last year's entry: "Shine"  - Tolmachevy Sisters (7th Place)

It's been hard to talk about the Russian Eurovision entries the past few years based on what's going on in the country.  Much like last year, the nation's not in a great place politically and socially, and much like last year, they seem to think if they send a song about tolerance and being united as one, we'll completely look the other way during the Eurovision Song Contest.  Last year's strategy appeared to be TWINS LOOK AT THE TWINS YOU GUYS, so what sort of smokescreen has Russia sent this year?

Okay, so let's talk about the song first: the melody line is catchy (I've had it in my head the last few days as I've been gathering my thoughts for this post), even if the lyrics totally read like a knockoff Hallmark card when separated from the song.  There's a nice energy to the arrangement and Polina's performance, something I certainly find welcome in this year's field.  Even amongst similarly upbeat entries like Belarus' "Time" (which precedes it in the lineup), the song has its own energy propelling it.

Russia is one of the countries in the competition (like Greece) where, regardless of how much you like/dislike what's going on in the song or the countries politics, they have enough of a fanbase to ensure their placement.  In Russia's case, the first semifinal is stacked with former SSR friends like FYR Macedonia and the aforementioned Belarus to guarantee its placement regardless of the opinion of its politics.  Even though it feels like Russia is trying to paper over its shaky political situation the same way they did last year, this song is head and shoulders about the Tolmachevy Sisters - I could see this having a similarly strong placement if Polina's performing skills are at their best in Vienna (and unlike the Tolmachevys, I won't be left scratching my head at the final placement)

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Azerbaijan — Elnur Hüseynov — Hour of the Wolf Thu, 23 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 db973cf0-3fe7-47d4-928b-cbd8972baf19 Azerbaijan is sending a ringer to the contest; will he come home with a year's supply of hosting responsibilities?

Country: Azerbaijan
Song Title: "Hour of the Wolf"
Artist: Elnur Hüseynov
Semi-Final: Second, Position #11
Last year's entry: "Start a Fire" - Dilara Kazimova (22nd Place)

Last year's poor showing was out of character for Azerbaijan. Since entering the contest in 2008, they've finished in the top ten all but once, winning the 2011 contest in Düsseldorf, Germany. For political reasons, I've found it hard to enjoy Azerbaijan's entries, but there's no denying they know how to craft a successful Eurovision song. Their stagecraft isn't too shabby, either -- 2013's "Hold Me" made quite the spectacle out of a simple plexiglass rectangle. For 2015, Azerbaijan is sending Elnur Hüseynov, one half of their debut entry, to try and reboot this once-successful franchise. Will it work?

Begrudgingly: yes. This entry has pretty much everything covered: a handsome and experienced young performer with great emotional and musical range, an operatic and dramatic song about survival (...I guess?), a key change almost exactly two-thirds through the song, a crew of great backing singers that let the lead voice just float over top near the end, and a big climax followed by a gentle finish. The one big question left to answer: what will this performance look like?

Unfortunately we still don't have an official performance video. Hüseynov recently posted a live performance on his official YouTube channel. It confirms he has a great voice that can fill an arena, especially when supported by strong backing vocals, but given this country's track record, I can guarantee you he will not be just walking around the Eurovision stage. Azerbaijan has something up their sleeve, I'm sure of it, and they're smart to hang onto it until the real competition. This is already a very good entry that will have no problem qualifying through to the Grand Final. But with some of their usual stagecraft, Azerbaijan could find themselves on the top five once again, perhaps even seriously contending for next year's hosting duties.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Portugal — Leonor Andrade — Há um Mar que nos Separa Wed, 22 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 2945bb1c-e87e-4156-82f2-ec06a507610f Does Leonor Andrade have what it takes to tip Portugal into the Eurovision Song Contest finals?

Country: Portugal
Song Title: "Há um Mar que nos Separa"
Artist: Leonor Andrade
Semi-Final: Second, Position 8
Last year's entry: "Quero Ser Tua"  - Suzy (DNQ - 11th Place, SF1)

After taking a year off in 2013, Portugal stopped by a half-off sale for the standard Eurovision elements (cheesy synths, nonsense backing vocals, giant drums), bought everything, and shoved it on stage.  The resulting entry, Suzy's "Quero Ser Tua", was one of my least favorite of the entire competition.  Thankfully, Europe agreed with me enough that it finished just outside of qualifying for the finals in 11th place in its semifinal.  Seemingly learning from what did score high last year (one singer, more authentic instrumentation) they're back with "Há um Mar que nos Separa".  How does it stack up against its competitors?

There's some division here at WEIO Eurovision HQ((Which is not so much an HQ as it is a series of spreadsheets)): we seem to either really like this song or really hate it.  I'm in the former camp - the song has a nice sense of dynamics, and Leonor's vocals are certainly more competent than Suzy's were last year.  I also really like Portugal's commitment to singing in Portuguese - so many of the other nations automatically go for English (or switch to it from their native tongue like Iceland) that it's nice((at least from an American perspective)) to see something different.  The more mid-tempo nature of the song seems like it will stick out over the slower entries from Norway and the Czech Republic.

Portugal doesn't always have enough friends in its semi-final to secure the votes it needs.  I'm hoping a slightly more dynamic performance from Leonor tips them over the edge in the final - a little more crowd interaction would go a long way.  I'd love to see this one make the finals since it seems to have some real emotion behind it, but it's all in the show for this one.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Hungary — Boggie — Wars for Nothing Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 5328da57-9c50-4ce6-959d-655d56caec4d Will Hungary find peace with Boggie's "Wars for Nothing" at the Eurovision Song Contest next month?

Country: Hungary
Song Title: "Wars for Nothing"
Artist: Boggie
Semi-Final: First, Position 10
Last year's entry: "Running"  - András Kállay Saunders (5th Place)

Hungary is one of the countries we should all be keeping an eye on in the Eurovision Song Contest. Since returning to the Contest in 2011 after a brief hiatus (and a couple years of not qualifying for the Final), Hungary has developed a knack for sending entries that manage to be current without coming across as dated. In other words: their tracks hold up quite nicely. Hungary has also managed to earn back-to-back top 10 finishes in the last two years, which is great momentum for this year's entry "Wars for Nothing" by Boggie:

This entry is the epitome of high risk high reward. The performance is simple as is the message, but that is where the elegance of this entry can be found. Ryan was stressing the performance aspects in his first impression of "Wars for Nothing", but I would much rather there be as few visuals as possible. Can you imagine how haunting this song would be if it were completely dark save for Boggie under a spotlight, with light added as each new singer joins her?

The song is practically a cappella, so the visuals presentation should also be as stripped down as possible. The a cappella nature of this song is where the risk/reward will be won or lost. The harmonies are the most beautiful part of "Wars for Nothing" and being able to execute them in an arena setting with very little music to work from carries with it a much higher degree of difficulty. However, if successful, "Wars for Nothing" could be a major contender in Vienna.

Hungary's position in the running order provides an interesting contrast. Boggie will be following Serbia's anthem to self confidence while Belarus' power pop entry will be the "Wars for Nothing" chaser. This is a fantastic balance of light and shade, with Hungary probably benefiting the most from the three.

Unless the performance goes off the rails for some reason((I have no reason to think it will)), I will be deeply disappointed if Hungary doesn't make it to the Eurovision final.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Belgium — Loïc Nottet — Rhythm Inside Mon, 20 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 7457e101-92b7-449a-8116-f14dcdb9690d In which Belgium sends Lorde (not Lordi!) to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Country: Belgium
Song Title: "Rhythm Inside"
Artist: Loïc Nottet
Semi-Final: First, Position 3
Last year's entry: "Mother" - Axel Hirsoux (DNQ - 14th Place, SF1)

After great success in the contest's early years, taking the silver medal in each of the first two years, Belgium has had a rough go at Eurovision. The win in 1986 and nine top-ten finishes don't quite balance out the eight last-place finishes and twenty-one entries garnering ten points or less (including two goose eggs). More recently, eight of their past ten entries have failed to qualify for the finals. After another disappointing DNQ in 2014, let's see if Loïc Nottet can bring the rhythm back to Belgium's hope for the final ...

I love me some Eurovision schmaltz, but I also love that Belgium is joining Latvia this year in the less-is-more camp. Loïc Nottet does a great job with the Lorde-inspired atmosphere of this song, and I agree with Mike's assessment -- the more I listen to this song, the more I enjoy it. Belgium last sent a cute teenager with a catchy, sincere, somewhat dubsteppy song in 2013; Roberto Bellarosa not only made it to the finals with"Love Kills", he finished in 12th place.((That song remains stuck in my head to this day, much to my chagrin. Am I the only one who thinks it's is a little stalker-y?))

If a strategy works, it's generally smart to employ it again((Playing to the audience, much?)), but there's one potential pitfall that could keep this entry from doing well. "Love Kills" was a high-energy song that only needed a pair of dancers to keep the audience engaged. Latvia's "Love Injected" is better off without much movement because Aminata has an amazing voice. While I appreciate Nottet's performance, and like the ways he styles "rrrrrapapap" throughout the song((Even if I'm not totally sure what that means. Chalk it up with "oximated.")) his voice is just not enough to carry this entry. And yet the song seems too slow for choreography to play as big a role as is necessary.

Looking at the semifinal placement, it's fortunate this entry doesn't have to go head-to-head with the aforementioned Latvian entry. But it's up third, which means there's a lot of time for viewers to forget about this song while they're napping through the middle ballads. Ultimately I think Belgium's chances come down to staging, and how much voting help they can get from neighbors France and the Netherlands. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Montenegro — Knez — Adio (Goodbye) Sun, 19 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 f02799a9-9e5d-40b4-9130-2de10e114c36 Will Montenegro's Knez say hello to the country's second Eurovision Song Contest final with "Adio"?

Country: Montenegro
Song Title: "Adio" (Goodbye)
Artist: Knez
Semi-Final: Second, Position 4
Last year's entry: "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Ćetković (19th Place)

Montenegro is in a bit of a honeymoon period, having qualified for the Eurovision Song Contest final for the first time ever last year in a modest 19th place. Part of that 19th place can be attributed to Armenia and FYR Macedonia giving last year's entry 12 points each, so Montenegro is well on its way to achieving some standing within the Contest community. How does this year's entry, "Adio" by Knez, stack up?

First, the song was written by Serbian Eurovision mainstay Željko Joksimović, last seen taking third place in Baku in 2012 with "Nije ljubav stvar". "Adio" is similar to the 2012 track in a few ways: the somber beginning, strong instrumentation in the bridge, and a powerful yet abrupt finish. Unlike last year's entry from Montenegro, "Adio" doesn't remind me of a soundtrack for a television ad, which only works in the song's favor.

If the video offers any indication of what the staging will be like, Montenegro appears to be in pretty good shape. In the video above at the 2:30 mark, the five backing singers behind Knez gave me the subtlest reminder of how "Molitva" was staged in 2007, which worked out pretty well for Serbia. I don't imagine there being that much of the stage being used in the performance, but what little movement happens could make for a compelling three minutes.

The challenge for Montenegro will be in gathering points. Since the country has so few appearances, there isn't a clear indication of who its "friends" are. Slovenia is the only other FYR in the semi-final, so that should help slightly. However, the second semi-final features quite a few of Eurovision's non-powerhouses, such as San Marino, Portugal, Czech Republic, and Latvia. As a result, the points could be spread among a lot of countries, creating a rather large bubble. I would like to see Montenegro advance once again, but one or two points could make the difference.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Romania — Voltaj — De la capăt Fri, 17 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 954832b1-1b4e-400d-84ce-32dca3e59e78 Could Voltaj's "De la capăt" break Romania's finals streak at the Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: Romania
Song Title: "De la capăt" (All Over Again)
Artist: Voltaj
Semi-Final: First, Position 15
Last year's entry: "Miracle"  - Paula Selig and Ovi (12th Place)

Romania is one of the few countries to have never missed getting to the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest since the introduction of the semi-finals in 2004.  While that's impressive, they haven't exactly been on a hot streak lately - their last placement in the top 10 was with Paula Selig & Ovi's "Playing with Fire" in 2010.  While they tried((unsuccessfully, in my opinion)) to recapture that magic by sending the duo last year with "Miracle", even that didn't get them back in the top of the charts, finishing just outside in 12th.  It seems a new strategy in order - is Voltaj's "De la capăt" the ticket to get them there?

In pulling my thoughts together on this song, I've listened to it about 6 or 7 times, and it fails to really leave anything of an impression every time.  Voltaj's song has a vague inspirational feel, and sounds like the bland radio-filler people complain about when they think about adult contemporary radio.  There's nothing here that feels "Eurovision" to me other than the use of the Romanian language - the instrumentation's straight-up middle-of-the-road pop and the lyrics feel equally bland.  The singer of the group certainly seems capable, but I'm just not excited by this entry compare to some of the others in its semifinal, like Estonia and Belarus.

One thing the song has in its favor is its performance slot.  By getting placed later in the evening, it's more likely to be closer to the forefront of voter's minds, but I think the entries on either side of it, Albania and Georgia, are likely to have stronger performances that may keep this song from being noticed.  It's nice, but a standard "band" performance may not be enough to cut it in terms of getting to the final.  This feels like a bubble song to me - depending on what entries really shine the night of, it could come 8th, or it could come 12th.  This could be the one that breaks Romania's streak.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Norway — Mørland & Debrah Scarlett — A Monster Like Me Thu, 16 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 6e918649-687f-495e-a78e-5d130ecfd30a Can Mørland and Debrah Scarlett keep Norway's monsters at bay?

Country: Norway
Song Title: "A Monster Like Me"
Artist: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett
Semi-Final: Second, Position #6
Last year's entry: "Silent Storm" - Carl Espen (8th Place)

Norway's participation tends to run hot-and-cold; they've won three times, including 2009's "Fairytale," which earned the highest margin of victory in Eurovision history. They also hold the record for most last-place finishes (eleven times) and most nul points (four times). In both 2013 and 2014, Norway landed in the top ten. Can Mørland and Debrah Scarlett keep the monsters at bay long enough to continue the positive trend?

Reminding me immediately of Coldplay((I can't pin down which song, exactly, but don't all Coldplay songs sound the same anyway?)) is not a great way to start. Saying little more than "I am a monster" / "I am a monster too"((Is that even what's going on here? I'm honestly not sure.)) in three minutes is a terrible way to continue. Seriously -- this song feels like the Eurovision equivalent of increasing the font size, spacing, and margins so you can meet the length requirement without fleshing out your thoughts. I hate the Cypriot entry's lyrics about doing everything for one's lover (except, you know, being there in their time of need), but at least that song tells a complete story, and tune is hella catchy. Musically speaking, this song is fine, if somewhat unremarkable.

I need something -- the sparse atmosphere of Latvia, the anthemic structure of Sweden, the power and passion of the Czech Republic -- to differentiate this song from the other ballads, especially as it will open the middle section of the second semifinal. The official video for "A Monster Like Me" tries to fill in some of the gaps in the story, but in a way I don't understand: he's a monster, so she ... poisons everyone and turns them into monsters, too? Or just poisons one person, but it's unclear who? And they both spend inordinate amounts of time looking smugly at each other? Unfortunately that presentation, like the original one Mike wrote about, isn't going to work in an arena.

I'm (once again) at odds with my fellow WEIOers, and the bookies, on this song -- but Norway doesn't make my list to get out of its semifinal. Perhaps my Rocky Horror viewing this past weekend has skewed my perspective, but without a more complete story and something distinctive to remember this entry, I just don't find these monsters compelling.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Greece — Maria-Eleni Kyriakou — One Last Breath Wed, 15 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 2971793f-ffe8-4809-af06-741c9050b7d1 Will Greece need to draw "One Last Breath" to keep its perfect final streak alive at the Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: Greece
Song Title: "One Last Breath"
Artist: Maria-Eleni Kyriakou
Semi-Final: First, Position 6
Last year's entry: "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd (20th Place)

It wouldn't be a story about Europe if you didn't mention how deep Greece's troubles are. Not only is the country on the brink of financial collapse, it could be at risk of ending its 35-year perfect run of appearing in Eurovision Song Contest finals. Not to get too inside baseball, but in our initial rankings of this year's entries, "One Last Breath" by Maria-Eleni Kyriakou was one of the few where my esteemed colleagues, Ben and Ryan, and I were in agreement.

We agreed that we did not like this entry. At all. I'm not entirely sure why Ben ranked it so low, as his point about the performance being technically proficient is spot-on. My problem with the song is the same issue I have with the entry from the Czech Republic: Eurovision is supposed to be a party and Greece is the couple having a very public breakup by the snack table before someone locks her/himself in the one bathroom. Also, Maria-Eleni Kyriakou's gasping for air throughout the song may be intentional, but it is not pleasant to listen to and makes the intensity at the end of the track feel unearned, as she should be lightheaded at that point.

But is Greece at risk for not making the final? It may depend on how the country's financial issues play out with other nations in the coming weeks. Yes, yes, Eurovision is not a political contest((Pause here for giggles.)), but the makeup of the first semi-final may play in Greece's favor. Quite a few neighbors are in the mix, and Russia may be making nice with the country to help disrupt the Eurozone. What's 12 points among new friends?

My own biases against this entry aside, I think Greece will be advancing based on diaspora and good relationships. However, I'm not sure this entry will do much better than last year's track, which tied for Greece's worst finish ever in the Contest.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Ireland — Molly Sterling — Playing with Numbers Tue, 14 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 4508097e-9452-4810-a574-3995a4ce06c4 What are the odds Ireland wins the Eurovision Song Contest with Molly Sterling's "Playing with Numbers"?

Country: Ireland
Song Title: "Playing With Numbers"
Artist: Molly Sterling
Semi-Final: Second, Position 2
Last year's entry: "Heartbeat" - Can-Linn ft. Casey Smith (DNQ - 12th Place, SF2)

Ireland's had a rough few years at the Eurovision Song Contest.  After hosting the contest three years in a row in the 90s, they've hit a bit of a rough patch since the introduction of the semi-final system.  If they make it to the final (and that's a definite if these days), they seem to languish near the bottom of the results at the end of the night.  After last year's so-so "Heartbeat" (which felt like a song likely to be on the bubble then, and on re-listen, hasn't really aged that well), can Molly Sterling improve Ireland's odds with "Playing with Numbers"?

The thing I like about this song is that it makes me think of the types of songs Ireland's won with in the past - Johnny Logan won for the country twice with mid-tempo ballads about love, and Molly Sterling's song here is right in that wheelhouse.  There's a metaphor in the chorus I'm not quite processing, but I generally like the tone, theme, and instrumentation of the song.  Having seen the original late night performance, it's nice to see that Molly can sing the song live as well as she does in the official version above.

The one thing that worries, me, though, is how this gets staged in the final.  Ireland is performing in the 2nd slot of the night, which means unless they really put on a show, they risk being overshadowed by later performers.  In Ireland's favor, though is the songs that come before and after them.  Of the opening trio of Lithuania, Ireland, and San Marino, I think Ireland has the best/strongest song.  Unfortunately, it's a question of if they have a song better than at least 5 or 6 other performers.  This is definitely another bubble song, so if Molly Sterling fixes herself behind a piano for the whole song, I'm concerned that they'll just miss the finals again.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Finland — Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät — Aina Mun Pitää Mon, 13 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 ce8afb23-15fd-4c21-8ad6-0df904888c6b Can Finland's punk group summon the spirit of Lordi and return to the Eurovision top ten?

Country: Finland
Song Title: "Aina Mun Pitää"
Artist: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (aka PKN)
Semi-Final: First, Position #5
Last year's entry: "Something Better" - Softengine (11th Place)

Finland has been most successful in the past when they've thrown convention out the window and committed to something offbeat. In 2006, "Hard Rock Hallelujah" brought home the title because it was a great hard rock song, and while the staging was your garden variety "stand there and sing," Lordi nailed the hard rock atmosphere with some really amazing costumes. After a decade of varying success at Eurovision, can Finland build on last year's momentum and return to the top ten?

If you're going to send a song from a less-popular genre to Eurovision, it better be a great representative of the genre (as "Hard Rock Hallelujah" was). So how much of a punk song is "Aina Mun Pitää?" Well let's see: it has an aggressive sound, employs a bare musical structure (just verse/chorus), uses no background vocalists and likely no dancers as part of the performance, lasts only 90 seconds, has no real melody, and lyrically expresses the everyday frustrations that all of us have felt at some point. This song and band truly espouses the accessibility punk holds dear; it's "rock and roll by people who [don't] have very [many] skills as musicians but still [feel] the need to express themselves through music."((

This is about as punkish as a punk song can be, and as a result I think it's the best entry in its semifinal. But then I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Eurovision entries from less-popular genres, especially rap entries like Woki Mit Dem Popo from 2012, or Igranka from 2013. Does it help that the band was formed at a camp for adults with developmental disabilities? I mean, of course it does, but plenty of entries have some kind of backstory that help make them more popular((Look, I love me some Conchita Wurst, but do you think that entry wins without the bearded drag angle? Yeah, no.)) or less popular.((Looking at you, Russia.)) So while I'm thrilled that we have a few performers with disabilities this year -- visible representation is really important for marginalized people -- that's but one piece of what makes me such a fan of Finland this year.

I know others disagree with me on the merits of "Aina Mun Pitää," but I'm rooting for this to place high in the finals, and at least so far the bookmakers are on my side of this argument.((Not that that means anything. They currently have the UK as 10th most likely to win, so ¯(ツ)/¯ )) Regardless, PKN have cemented themselves as a staple of my morning routine. "Aina mun pitää feed the cat / aina mun pitää brush my teeth ..."

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Israel — Nadav Guedj — Golden Boy Sun, 12 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 360ea008-8d39-46d7-9a01-4549f42a9854 Will Israel's "Golden Boy" Nadav Guedj usher the country into its first Eurovision Song Contest final in 5 years?

Country: Israel
Song Title: "Golden"
Artist: Nadav Guedj
Semi-Final: Second, Position 9
Last year's entry: "Same Heart"  - Mei Feingold (Did Not Qualify - 14th Place, Second Semi-Final)

Israel is in the midst of a long skid in the Eurovision Song Contest, not having qualified for the final since the 2010 event in Oslo. It isn't for lack of trying that Israel has struggled. In 2011, they sent 1998 Eurovision winner Dana International to Dusseldorf only to finish 15th in the semi-final. 2013's entry "Rak Bishvilo" tried to channel the country's last successful entry, but it was also met with indifference. Last year's entry "Same Heart" was a bracket-buster for quite a few prognosticators, failing to qualify despite a strong stage performance and a pretty good hook. There is a disconnect between Israel and the rest of the Eurovision community--will "Golden Boy" by Nadav Guedj bridge that gap?

I think Ben nailed it when he called this a "fractured entry." I have to wonder if perhaps Israel is trying to use reverse psychology by employing everything associated with doomed Eurovision entries. Here's the short list:

  • Rap/Hip Pop elements (See: Montenegro 2012 and 2013)
  • Name-dropping cities/countries (See: Ireland 2008((Though Dustin the Turkey is an extreme example.)) )
  • Dance tracks to get the crowd going (See: Latvia 2013, France 2014)
  • Explicit Eurovision references

That last one is particularly irksome. The fact that there is no way out of the song other than saying "whoops, times up" indicates a flawed structure. Granted, Montenegro is doing something similar, but why call attention to it? Perhaps the strategy is that the quadruple negative will mathematically work out into positive votes in the semi-final.

There is one more problem I have with this track, but it may be something that only affects people here in the states (i.e. Ben and Ryan):

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This immediately jumped to mind when I first saw Nadav Guedj's video, which can't be a good sign. Guedj seems charismatic, but Usher he is not.

Sigh. I would like Israel's skid to end, but I do not think this will be the track to do it.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Moldova — Eduard Romanyuta — I Want Your Love Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0500 0f57311b-a1e2-4b5f-a3b9-87ce74bd06c2 Eduard Romanyuta wants our love, but does Moldova want to make it the Eurovision finals this year?

Country: Moldova
Song Title: "I Want Your Love"
Artist: Eduard Romanyuta
Semi-Final: First, Position 1
Last year's entry: "Wild Soul"  - Cristina Scarlat (Did Not Qualify - 16th Place, SF2)

Moldova is always one of my favorite countries in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Their songs always seem to have a good mix between national music traditions and what's going on in pop, and their staging is always loud and colorful.  Which makes last year's entry, "Wild Soul", all the more of an anomaly - for the first time since 2008, the country missed the finals completely, and the song itself was too slow, too confusing, and too oddly staged to really have a chance of making it through.  Moldova picked themselves up and put together this year's entry, Eduard Romanyuta's "I Want Your Love".  Are they back on the right track?

On a first listen, I loved this entry, but the more I listen to it, the more I have second thoughts.  It's certainly catchy and the video is fun, but it's missing a few things I usually love about Moldova's entires.  The balance of national music/pop here is completely out of balance (this sounds like something you could hear from a B-tier pop singer about 10 years ago, production-wise), and feels a little more generic every time I hear it.  The video is great, but I'm pretty sure Moldova isn't going to be able to recreate car chases with their stage show.  I have no doubt that they'll be in a good place to open their semifinal (since the last time they did, we got the epic Sax Man meme), but with countries like Armenia and Belgium following with songs that are a little more charismatic, I'm concerned their usual flash may not be enough.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Czech Republic — Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta — Hope Never Dies Thu, 09 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 31e9a1c5-30cf-41a3-b0d5-e44076647caa The Czech Republic's hope for the Grand Final will never die ...

Country: Czech Republic
Song Title: "Hope Never Dies"
Artist: Marta Jandová and Václav Noid Bárta
Semi-Final: Second, Position #8
Last year's entry: None

To say that the Czech Republic's history in the Eurovision Song Contest has been Czechered((SORRY NOT SORRY)) would imply some period of success. Unfortunately that's simply not the case. In three appearances the Czech Republic has earned a total of 10 points and have never qualified for the Grand Final (the only European country at this year's contest for which that's true); their last appearance in 2009 earned the dreaded nil points. Can Jandová and Bárta keep their country's hope alive?

"Hope Never Dies" is a ballad, but make no mistake, this one has the potential for LOTS of drama. (Yay!) The staging in the video, with its enclosed and highly-reflective spaces, reminds me of Azerbaijan's man-in-a-box from 2013. I think a similar staging could work really well for this entry. (I would highly recommend they do NOT try to recreate Sweden's man-in-a-box from 2011.) That said, they need to do something about those costumes ... Jandová is there looking great with her hair and skirt and Bárta is just standing there in a t-shirt, vest with lapels, and a scraggly-looking scarf. I understand they were trying to show off his arms, but there are lots of ways to do that with some semblance of style.

The song itself is strong, and I love the vocals, if not the lyrics. (I'll second Ben's recommendation to not focus too hard on them.) For me, Bárta's voice is reminiscent of the Crash Test Dummies, and I love that he doesn't sound like everybody else in the contest. The big weakness here: it doesn't seem like either of the singers are particularly adept at dance, so the performance itself needs to be big and dramatic without overshadowing the good musical stuff that's happening.

Overall, this entry has the potential to include everything I look for in a Eurovision entry: big hair, big fire, big wind machines, big voices, big drama. As a result, Jandová and Bárta should Czech((SORRY STILL NOT SORRY)) their luggage all the way through to the Grand Final, because I think this will be the year that their hopes turn into reality. Fourth time's the charm, right?

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Albania — Elhaida Dani — I'm Alive Wed, 08 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 59abab72-5b87-4397-ad5f-049d6ab8e190 Elhaida Dani's "I'm Alive" is giving Albania life in this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Will the song pull the country out of its slump?

Country: Albania
Song Title: "I'm Alive"
Artist: Elhaida Dani
Semi-Final: First, Position 14
Last year's entry: "One Night's Anger" - Hersi Matmuja (Did Not Qualify - 15th Place, First Semi-Final)

Albania is another country I always find myself rooting for in the Eurovision Song Contest, even though it doesn't always carry much clout when it comes to tallying up points. Although I have enjoyed all of its entries in the last several years, the country has hit a slump since its best-ever finish in 2012.((Say what you will about "Suus", but Rona Nishliu sang the hell out of that song and this year's entry from Italy is the first to attempt the same level of difficulty since then. #Flawless)) I am happy to report that the buzz around this year's entry, "I'm Alive" by Elhaida Dani, has been getting a lot of positive buzz and even the bookmakers are optimistic. Take a listen:

First, THANK YOU for changing the song, Albania. Although Eurovision has decided to explore other tropes this year, avoiding the overly-emotive American Idol power ballad has made this year's field rather refreshing. Yes, "I'm Alive" is another entry in the Female Empower-pop genre/trope, but Elhaida Dani's approach is rather pleasing to the ears. Following Conchita's win last year, one can understand the temptation to make an aggressive Empower-pop song (I'm looking at you, Georgia) or one that short-circuits the emotional build to make such a song effective (no shade, Iceland). "I'm Alive" starts from a quiet place and builds a thesis, and does so in a way that should be rewarded.

I cannot wait to see how Albania stages this entry. Because it isn't a power ballad, I can't imagine this will feature Elhaida Dani in a gorgeous gown standing in a spotlight. The video also suggests that we could be the audience for some powerful imagery or multimedia messaging. Staging has not been Albania's strong suit, relying heavily on pyrotechnics which will not work with this song.

I think "I'm Alive" can qualify on the merits of the song alone, but a strong presentation could make Albania a Eurovision contender once again.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Poland — Monika Kuszyńska — In the Name of Love Tue, 07 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 a8c3bade-2d14-4721-a64d-71627d6c4aba Monika Kuszyńska is certainly no Cleo, but can she bring the same Polish energy to the Eurovision Song Contest?

Country: Poland
Song Title: "In the Name of Love"
Artist: Monika Kuszyńska
Semi-Final: Second, Position 17
Last year's entry: "My Słowianie"  - Cleo and Donatan (14th Place)

Poland returned to the competition after some time away last year, and ensured themselves a place in the final by sending an entry that mixed national kitsch (the traditional image of the "slavic girl") with some straight up sex appeal (and some very attractive dancers on stage)((I said it last year, and I'll say it again: I'M NOT MADE OF STONE)).  It was a combination that clearly worked for them, as they ended the competition in the finals, although outside of the top 10.  With one (relatively) successful finish under their belts, will they be following the same tactic this year?

Monika Kuszyńska's "In the Name of Love" is certainly lovely, but it's not really my cup of tea.  There was an infectious energy to Cleo's song last year that I just find missing here.  It's a nice emotional ballad, but it feels like it should be soundtracking a commercial about Hallmark cards or Kay Jewelers.  The instrumentation's nice, and Monika's voice is certainly capable to sell it, but I just to get the same excitement I get from other songs of a similar tempo/theme this semi-final, like Iceland and Portugal.

That said, I'm interested to see how this gets staged.  One thing that the official video works around until the end is Monika's disability((although I suppose it's more well known if you're from the region)).  I'm predicting a more static performance, especially given the more stately nature of the song, but I'm ready to be surprised.  If I had any voting sway, there are a number of entries I'd be giving my vote before this, but there's enough curiosity in Poland's entry that I'm ready to see how they do.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Serbia — Bojana Stamenov — Beauty Never Lies Mon, 06 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 22795e7b-f939-4e69-ba0a-0f0bb8c73a42 Serbia won with Molitva in 2007, their first appearance. After failing to qualify for the finals in 2013 and sitting out in 2014, can they come back strong?

Country: Serbia
Song Title: "Beauty Never Lies"
Artist: Bojana Stamenov
Semi-Final: First, Position #9
Last year's entry: None

After winning the contest in 2007 with "Molitva," the last song to win in a language other than English, Serbia has stayed true to their roots. Every one of their entries has been sung in Serbian, and I agree with Mike, that warrants a few extra points. The past few years have been a mixed bag, though -- after failing to qualify for the finals in 2013, Serbia sat out 2014. Will Bojana Stamenov bring back the Serbian passion that led to their early success?

Well, let's start with the really obvious change: the song is now in English(( :-( :-( :-( )) and tells a completely different story than the original entry. It's worth noting that the new lyrics were written by American songwriter Charlie Mason, who also wrote last year's winning entry, "Rise Like a Phoenix." As much as I can appreciate the uplifting content, and I understand why the switch to English is tempting, I'm disappointed that yet another country will be singing in English. That leaves us with all but six entries using English (a seventh, from Romania, will be sung in both Romanian and English).

Because the staging of this song was tied to the original lyrical content and wouldn't fit with the changes, the official video takes a crowd-sourced (read: cheaper & faster to produce) approach. Music videos that incorporate fan-created content are generally great at one thing and one thing only: demonstrating how hard it is to perform on camera in a way that seems effortless. In this case, though, Stamenov and her team get extra points for staying somewhat true to the lyrics: "Finally I can say, yes I'm different and that's okay." It doesn't matter that these folks aren't trained performers, it just matters that they have connected with something in the music and wanted to share that with others.

Even with these two rather large changes, the best parts of this entry -- Stamenov's awesome voice and charisma, the well-structured song, an energetic and interesting backing track -- remain steadfast. I'm a little concerned that Serbia probably has to come up with a whole new staging concept, but they've had great designs in the past and I don't expect that to cause too much trouble. As a result, I have no doubt Serbia will return to and make a strong showing in the Grand Final.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Lithuania — Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila — This Time Sun, 05 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 dd32d3c0-0f58-4ae2-a364-ee29fd7a848a Will Lithuania bounce back "This Time" from missing the Eurovision final last year? Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila will try with a toe-tapping love song.

Country: Lithuania
Song Title: "This Time"
Artist: Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila
Semi-Final: Second, Position 1
Last year's entry: "Attention"  -  Vilija Mataciunaite (Did Not Qualify - 11th Place, Second Semi-Final)

Lithuania is one of my favorite countries in the Eurovision Song Contest. At once the country marches to its own drum but doesn't strive to be a trendsetter. The latter part is probably poor strategy in a competition that is a popularity contest, but when it comes to creating quality songs the mindset makes my playlist very happy. Does "This Time" by Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila maintain Lithuania's approach to Eurovision?

Hmmmm. Of all the entries trying to mimic the success of the Netherlands last year, "This Time" probably hits closest to the target. While several countries are sending co-ed duets to Vienna, this one is the only one to also tap into the Americana vibe "Calm After the Storm" generated. So yes, Lithuania is being a little trendy this year.

Oddly, I think this song would have done incredibly well last year, particularly in comparison with what Malta sent to Copenhagen. I also think "Attention" would have been a serious contender with this year's crop of contestants, but sometimes the calendar just doesn't line up properly.((That song is still my jam and I will not hear any arguments to the contrary.)) However, "This Time" is what we have to work with in 2015, and I don't think all is lost for Lithuania.

Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila will be kicking off the second semi-final, and starting the show with something upbeat never hurts. The two singers have pretty good chemistry in the video above, which could go a long way to distinguish themselves from San MarinoCzech Republic, and Norway. What is unfortunate is that all four of the duets are in the front half of the semi-final, while the overall Eurovision favorites will be rounding out the second half.

I think the bubble for qualifying will be large in this semi-final, with at least two (and perhaps as many as four) qualifying slots up for grabs. Lithuania's best chance will be to make sure the harmonies are on point and that the staging maintains the viewers' interest. Squeaking into the final will require a lot of jury support on the technical aspects of performing mixed with televoters tapping their toes.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Georgia — Nina Sublatti — Warrior Fri, 03 Apr 2015 11:00:00 -0500 13891387-50cf-4db3-8cc5-2b3548db5fe1 As it turns out, Georgia isn't the only country with a "Warrior" in the Eurovision Song Contest.  Who wins the war?

Country: Georgia
Song Title: "Warrior"
Artist: Nina Sublatti
Semi-Final: First, Position 16
Last year's entry: "3 Minutes to Earth"  - The Shin & Mariko (DNQ - 15th Place, SF2)

I can't believe it's taken me until April to realize that there are two separate Eurovision entries titled "Warrior" - Georgia and Malta.  I can't say I'm entirely surprised((the only title I think I've seen more times in recent years is "Shine")) - the concept of a warrior is easy to convey in 3 minutes on a stage, so it's understandable why it may be a Eurovision mainstay. The problem with this is that with two entries with the same name, they're bound to be compared.

Before we get into that, let's talk about last year's contest for Georgia.  The Shin and Mariko presented a lovely jazzy piece called "Three Minutes to Earth" that had no chance of winning Eurovision.  It was kind of weird and seemed doomed from the start, and as I predicted, ended up at the very bottom of its semifinal with only 15 points to its name.  12 of those points came from its neighbor, Belarus.  I think any song is going to be an improvement on that score - let's see if "Warrior" adds up:

Well, this is better that "3 Minutes to Earth" (although that's faint praise).  There's definitely some power behind the song, although it's a bit basic.  I also have trouble making out the words of the first verse, and this is the studio-refined version, not a live performance.  I feel like I need some more info on Nina's performance skills before I can ultimately decide if this song has what it takes to make it to the finals, but I wouldn't be surprised if the right presentation in Vienna pushes it to the final stage.

Remember when I said we'd get to comparing both "Warrior"s?  That time is now.  Of the two, I find I prefer Malta's take - there's a little more actual dynamics to their song, where as this one is all-loud, all the time.  Malta may not have the spaced-out huskies, but Georgia's song is a little one-note in comparison.  On the plus side for it, it's closing out the first semifinal after some quieter songs from Romania and Albania - being fresh in the voter's mind with a dynamic presentation could assure this a spot in the finals.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Latvia — Aminata — Love Injected Thu, 02 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 2340db04-1157-46b7-a065-ae41d2e41324 A love injection might be just what Latvia needs to bring home another Eurovision win.

Country: Latvia
Song Title: "Love Injected"
Artist: Aminata
Semi-Final: Second, Position #10
Last year's entry: "Cake to Bake" - Aarzemnieki (DNQ - 13th Place, SF #1)

Latvia had early success at Eurovision; in their first nine appearances, they qualified for the Grand Final eight times, and even won in 2002, just their third year in the contest. More recently, though, Latvia has had a rough time, with their last seven entries failing to qualify for the finals. While I thoroughly enjoyed 2013's "Here We Go" (who doesn't love a keytar and an iPad-tar?) and 2014's "Cake to Bake" (because Eurovision), I can understand why neither did particularly well in the actual voting. So which Lativa are we going to see in the 2015 contest?

Holy sh ...... I am completely, utterly obsessed with this song. I'll be honest -- the first time I watched this performance it was really challenging. Already a little startled by the initial bass drop and lack of a clear beat in the intro, the full measure of complete silence between the first chorus and second verse made me say, out loud, to my cat: "What the hell is happening to me right now?" So I proceeded to watch it on a loop for about 20 minutes. (Like you do.) I love the way this song is constructed, and Aminata does a really beautiful job of performing it. And those backup singers, OMG!

What keeps drawing me back to this video is how well the performance is produced. There is zero waste; not a lyric, note, light, or movement out of place. Everything is stripped down to only what's necessary. Normally that is the antithesis of what I love about Eurovision, but it worked for Conchita Wurst last year, and I'd argue it works even better for Aminata. I get what Ben was saying about wanting a more creative and compelling staging, but to my eye this is exactly that. The energy and tension in this song comes from the mixture of joy and anguish in Aminata's voice, and adding more (people, movement, stuff) would distract from, and be a diminishment of, that performance.

This is how totally undone I am by this song, folks. I'm sitting here, reviewing a Eurovision Song Contest entry, thinking unironically about deep meaning and emotional energy and WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. I like Sweden's song! A lot! But I want to be best friends with this one. So, Latvia: please just take my twelve points right now so I can go back to annoying my new downstairs neighbors with your song on repeat.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Belarus — Uzari and Maimuna — Time Wed, 01 Apr 2015 10:00:00 -0500 0a36c005-38b8-4945-98fe-c2e6157e5bd5 It may be "Time" for Belarus to make a move in the Eurovision Song Contest, as the track by Uzari and Maimuna may be the country's strongest entry ever.

Country: Belarus
Song Title: "Time"
Artist: Uzari and Maimuna
Semi-Final: First, Position 11
Last year's entry: "Cheesecake" - Teo (16th Place)

I do not believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. If something gives you joy, you should be allowed to embrace it. Any shame attached to it comes from other people who, for whatever reason, do not share your joy. That is fine, though making their preferences a way of evaluating your pleasures is not healthy or anyone else's concern. Not everything is for everybody.

That being said, Belarus is totally my guilty pleasure of the Eurovision Song Contest. Every year they manage to submit entries that at first come across as completely generic, but end up becoming joyful earworms. I loved "I Love Belarus" (2011), I think "We are the Heroes" (2012) is an underrated entry, and even last year's twerpy hamster date is still on my main Eurovision playlist. Does this year's entry, "Time" by Uzari & Maimuna, maintain that tradition?

Maybe it's because I am missing Ukraine's presence in this year's Contest, but this entry is doing everything it can to fill that void. The evolution of this song has been fantastic, with improved instrumentation and some much-needed revisions to the lyrics. The metaphor "time is like thunder" still isn't explained, but much like "Tick Tock" from last's year's Contest, that doesn't need to be explained if the performance is hott.((That's right: "hott" with two t's.)) The video above suggests we may be treated to a fantastic stage performance, which should help with the voting.

Also helping with the voting: semi-final positioning. Five other former SSRs are in the first semi-final, including Russia, Moldova, and Georgia, which are Belarus' biggest supporters in the Contest. Belarus will serve as the bridge between Hungary and Russia in the running order, which is fantastic placement from a playlist point of view: providing transition while highlighting the strengths of "Time."

There isn't a doubt in my mind that "Time" will advance to the Eurovision final. If the stage performance does try to go toe-to-toe with what Ukraine and Azerbaijan have offered in the last few years, we could see Belarus jockeying to meet its best finish ever--2007's 6th place. Though it may fall short of that goal, it may be "Time" for another Top 10 placement.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Malta — Amber — Warrior Tue, 31 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 79fb65fc-7c51-43ed-ab28-f7feed3c86d2 Did Malta take our notes on revising its Eurovision entry, or is Amber's "Warrior" likely to be lost in the battle of its semifinal?

Country: Malta
Song Title: "Warrior"
Artist: Amber
Semi-Final: Second, Position 5
Last year's entry: "Coming Home" - Firelight (23rd Place)

Malta never seems to be my favorite in the Eurovision song contest.  The Maltese seem to prefer songs that while nice, can be a bit bland, and they especially love relatively motionless performances on stage.  Last year's entry, "Coming Home", left most of the fancy motion to the cameras while the band played their song.  It did well enough to make it to the finals, but lingered near the bottom when more dynamic performances stole the show.  How does this year's entry, Amber's "Warrior", fare in comparison?

Since the last time we checked in, it doesn't seem like there's been any major changes in the song itself or its lyrics, but the backing instrumentation has gotten an upgrade.  Switching out the more synthetic backing for something more organic gives the song more earned gravitas than it previously had.  There's also a little more dynamic control on Amber's part during the verses, giving some depth to what had previously been a bit one note.

Mike mentioned that this seemed a little close to last year's winner, "Rise Like a Phoenix", but I think the only similarity I can hear is a cinematic scale.  This sounds like this should be laying over the end sequence of a movie((in a good way)).  Every listen I give it makes me want to listen again, and there's a real sticking power.

Looking at Malta's staging last year and (so far) this year, I really want them to break away from their rut of letting the camera guys do all the work when it comes to putting on a dynamic performance.  Amber clearly has the pipes to pull this song off, so give her something a little more dramatic to do - the song's called "Warrior", after all.  By virtue of song along they're more dynamic than Montenegro (who performs before them), but it feels like Norway's entry does some similar things and could easily overshadow this if their performance is a little more memorable.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: North Macedonia — Daniel Kajmakoski — Autumn Leaves Mon, 30 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 2f7222b2-53c0-445a-95d7-dc6774416078 North Macedonia was the first country to pick their selection for this year's contest, way back in early November. Have they used the last four months wisely?

Country: North Macedonia
Song Title: "Autumn Leaves"
Artist: Daniel Kajmakoski
Semi-Final: First, Position #8
Last year's entry: "To The Sky" - Tijana (DNQ - 13th Place, SF2)

North Macedonia was the first country to pick their selection for this year's contest, way back in early November.((Are they conspiring with the commercial card and candy companies to make Eurovision the new global holiday?)) When WEIO last checked in, this song needed a lot of help. It was primarily a piano-driven tune, and the lyrics were in Macedonian. I personally love it when countries perform in a language other than English, but as Mike pointed out, that hasn't been a recipe for success in recent contests. So, have the Macedonians used the last four months wisely?

Much like Israel's entry, "Autumn Leaves" incorporates multiple stylistic approaches. It's a ballad and an anthem, electronic and orchestral. Where Israel smashes these styles into one another and makes a song out of the pieces,((Not that that's a bad thing!)) North Macedonia integrates them much more smoothly. It reminds me of last year's Armenian entry, which I also really enjoyed, and which landed in the top five. My point is: songs like this can work really well at Eurovision, if they play their cards right. And indeed, Macedonia has taken advantage of the extra time to make this song better. They've switched the lyrics to English (which will help more of the audience connect with the song), added the electronic elements, and made this a more energetic and uplifting song.

That said, this entry still has a couple of hurdles to overcome. An autumnal theme might have been perfect for the Macedonia national selection, but probably will be less welcome in May as Europe looks forward to summer. They also have the worst Eurovision track record of any country in their semifinal; Macedonia's best finish was 12th place, and that was almost ten years ago. I'm also concerned as to how they'll stage this; as we keep saying, it's one thing to just stand and sing in a national selection, and quite another to try to fill the Eurovision stage.

Overall, I like this song, placing it comfortably in my top ten for the first semifinal. I'll be surprised if it doesn't make the finals, but beyond that don't have much hope that it will set a new national standard at Eurovision. It's catchy and easy to sing along with, but ultimately doesn't have that distinguishable something that will keep Europeans singing along for an entire six months.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Switzerland — Melanie Rene — Time to Shine Sun, 29 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 994fc2fc-ec33-4909-bdf7-30284b775a37 Is it Switzerland's "Time to Shine" at the Eurovision Song Contest? Melanie Rene's entry tip-toes on the edge of success.

Country: Switzerland
Song Title: "Time to Shine"
Artist: Melanie Rene
Semi-Final: Second, Position 14
Last year's entry: "Hunter of Stars" - SeBAlter (13th Place)

For a country with four official languages and prime real estate in Western Europe (read: lots of neighbors), Switzerland should have a much stronger track record in the Eurovision Song Contest. Instead, since the introduction of the modern semi-final format in 2004, the Swiss have qualified for the final only four times (finishing in last place in 2012) and finished in absolute last place twice.((Nil points in 2004. In a semi-final. That feat is almost worthy of a prize in itself.)) The country managed to finish middle of the pack last year after qualifying for the final—can "Time to Shine" by Melanie Rene make it two-in-a-row?

This will be a tough one to call. "Time to Shine" almost achieves Eurovision Yahtzee:

  • Perpetual building up of emotion
  • A song with "Shine" in the title
  • Female power ballad
  • Random electric guitar snippet

As such, the track record of songs like this is spotty at best. Slovenia's entry last year was of this type, but they managed to qualify. However, so was Israel's and they received no love. This year, Melanie Rene will need to contend with "Warrior", both from Georgia and Malta, and the esoteric qualities of Latvia's entry. Plus, Switzerland will be performing in the wake of Sweden's powerhouse entry, which is not prime positioning.

I don't think all hope is lost. The above video suggests that Melanie Rene and company are mindful of the importance of imagery and staging. The song as it is currently does lend itself to a strong stage presence, which Switzerland will need in the semi-final. A say the "song as it is currently" because I am concerned about the level of production already present in the track. I believe Slovenia under-performed at last year's Contest because the final version of the song was overproduced and it showed. "Time to Shine" is a hair away from crossing the line and if Switzerland is tempted to do any more tinkering, it should look in the mirror and remove an accessory rather than add anything else.

I don't think 2015 will be the "Time to Shine" for Switzerland, but with a certain degree of care, I could see Melanie Rene getting off the bubble and sneaking her way into the Eurovision final.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Denmark — Anti Social Media — The Way You Are Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 6b8b1cc5-aeaf-44f3-91dd-96283df2ce45 Is Copenhagen ready for another Eurovision, or is Anti Social Media still a little too now to win?

Country: Denmark
Song Title: "The Way You Are"
Artist: Anti Social Media
Semi-Final: First, Position 13
Last year's entry: "Cliche Love Song" - Basim (9th Place)

It's only been a year since we were last in Copenhagen, so it'd be understandable if the Danes wanted to send an entry that was nowhere near their best work this year so that they didn't have to throw another massive party in 2016((although their set design and general setup was one of my favorites in memory)).  That said, I just don't think it's their way - Danish pop is really good stuff that straddles the line between individuality and what's going on with mainstream music.  Last year's entry maybe got a little too close to the mainstream side - Basim's "Cliche Love Song" totally sounded like Bruno Mars to me((sound familiar, Australia?)), and for that reason was a nice selection for their year as winner - something to prove they deserved the win the previous year, but nothing that would make them need to host twice.  What about this year - are they in it to win it again with Anti Social Media's "The Way You Are"?

Here's the deal: I like this song, but it wasn't my favorite of the national final.  I get why it won things over - in an age where it feels like half the internet is freaking out over Zayn leaving One Direction, it's clear that the boy band is back.  The boys of Anti Social Media((which: fantastic name)) have a nice little ditty that feels 60s-sh and even early Beatles-esque, but still has a freshness that I think will stick out in this year of duets and ballads.  On the other hand, while the chorus is completely stuck in my head, the verses themselves are super generic and don't really stick with you.

From a staging perspective, I think Denmark has the right idea here, but I'd love to see Anti Social Media take things bigger if they really want to stand out from the pack and prove that the Danes could totally rise again.  Do I think this is the winner this year?  No.  Could it do well?  Of course, with the right performance.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Iceland — María Ólafsdóttir — Unbroken Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 9a8d6f3a-b121-445c-810e-dde2f9e1da93 Iceland is the only Northern European country that hasn't won Eurovision. Will 2015 be the year they head into the light forever?

Country: Iceland
Song Title: "Unbroken"
Artist: María Ólafsdóttir
Semi-Final: Second, Position 12
Last year's entry: "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk (15th Place)

Perhaps it's unfair, but I tend to judge Iceland's Eurovision entries by the extent to which they encapsulate the joy, talent, and/or quirkiness of Björk (not that anyone, from anywhere, can legitimately compare.) Last year, Pollapönk did a great job of bringing a fun OK Go-inspired dance number, with a great message to boot, and I felt their finish was lower than deserved. As the only Northern European country to have never won Eurovision, could 2015 be Iceland's year?

Since we last looked at "Unbroken" a couple of things have changed; the lyric heading into the chorus is now "one step at a time" instead of "a step at a time," and the rhythm to that same lyric is much more natural and appealing. Unfortunately the costuming hasn't changed, and I agree that the flowing gown / barefoot combination harkens back to 2013 a little too obviously, a little too late.((I might have enjoyed seeing Pollaponk in that costume, even if their brightly colored suits were pretty cool.)) I'm also realizing ... does this song even have any verses, or is it entirely made up of bridges and choruses? The fact that I've listened to this song several times now and still have to ask that question isn't a good sign.

Don't get me wrong, I dig this song. It's catchy, it has a good message, and the staging is well done -- at least on video.((I'm concerned about how well their current plan will translate to the larger, less flattering Eurovision stage.)) I have even caught myself singing it at my desk while working on completely non-Eurovision tasks. I'm just not sure this song has enough of the right ingredients to make it to the Grand Final, given how strong the second semifinal is shaping up to be, especially since they perform right before the odds-on favorite, Sweden.((Ouch.)) It pains me to say it, and I know the odds are against me on this, but I think the best María Ólafsdóttir can hope for is that Iceland's seven-year streak of qualifying out of the semifinals will remain unbroken.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: The Netherlands — Trijntje Oosterhuis — Walk Along Wed, 25 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 113fc505-d83b-4b28-8bef-bb40cb219028 The Netherlands attempts to "Walk Along" to its third Eurovision Song Contest final in a row with Trijntje Oosterhuis. Are the Dutch establishing a new trend (aside from all the duets this year)?

Country: The Netherlands
Song Title: "Walk Along"
Artist: Trijntje Oosterhuis
Semi-Final: First, Position 4
Last year's entry: "Calm After the Storm" - Common Linnets (2nd Place)((Still giddy about that, by the way.))

A trend is a general direction a change or development is moving. Usually it takes three data points to notice a trend, which is what the Netherlands are attempting to establish at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Since the modern semi-final format was introduced in the mid-'00s, the Dutch qualified for its first final in 2013 with "Birds" by Anouk, an all-in gamble that paid off for the country.((I quite enjoyed that entry, though I can understand why it wasn't Ben's cup of tea.)) Last year the Dutch struck gold((and became the influence for 1/3 of this year's field)) with its fantastic entry "Calm After the Storm", a more than worthy runner-up to Conchita Wurst. The Netherlands have opted for another internal selection this year, choosing chanteuse Trijntje Oosterhuis (with a writing assist from Anouk) and her song "Walk Along":

The Dutch revealed their entry in late 2014, which has allowed for a great deal of time to process the quality of this entry. To be honest, my initial thoughts about the song were not positive. Having seen videos of other live performances by Oosterhuis, I didn't think "Walk Along" properly showcased her vocal talents. The refined version of the song in the video above is a bit more palatable, at least in a disposable pop song context. In other words, it checks a lot of the boxes for a successful Eurovision entry.

Although this entry has improved over the last few months, it still feels like it may be on the bubble for qualifying for the final. The first semi-final is a competitive field with more viable entries than the ten slots available in the Grand Final. The good news is that Oosterhuis is the only female vocal powerhouse in the first half of the semi-final, as Georgia and Serbia have been assigned to the second half. However, the Dutch will be among entries that do not fit the disposable pop construct, such as Belgium and Estonia, which could make this entry seem less memorable by comparison.

Although I do not believe "Walk Along" has the artistry or momentum as the previous two entries from the Netherlands, I would love to see the country advance to the final for a third time in a row.

Eurovision 2015 Entry: Cyprus — John Karayiannis — One Thing I Should Have Done Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 d4f5cafd-5c17-48f1-920b-275e5e8f5b9c John Karayiannis is the first act to represent Cyprus since they took the 2014 contest off.  Is "One Thing I Should Have Done" something Cyprus will regret?

Country: Cyprus
Song Title: "One Thing I Should Have Done"
Artist: John Karayiannis
Semi-Final: Second, Position 15
Last year's entry: Did Not Participate

Hey, Cyprus is back in the competition!  After taking 2014 off, it's nice to see them sending an entry again.  It's easy to see just why they took a breather - in the past 7 years of the competition, they've only made the finals twice, once with Ivi Adamou's rousing "La La Love", and the other with the more singer-songwritery "Life Looks Better In Spring".  Cyprus seems to rotate through those two modes a lot with their entries, so it's not surprising to see them return to that well with this year's entry, John Karayiannis' "One Thing I Should Have Done".

When Ryan took a look at this song after it first came out, he liked the music, but was a little let down by the emotional buildup the lyrics manage to squander after a good first half.  I'd have to agree there - the instrumentation and general mood of the song are a little bland for my taste, but it's a nice little number that could be a little more powerful if the lyrics went through one more draft.  Alas, it doesn't seem the Cypriots got our notes, and nothing's really changed since the debut of the song a little over a month ago.

This song feels like it's on the bubble.  While it falls far outside of my top 10, not everyone here at WEIO felt the same way.  That said, the second semifinal is full of songs that feel fresher and more dynamic, and I wouldn't be surprised if Cyprus falls through the cracks, especially buried after performances from Sweden and Switzerland that feel more likely to be visually dynamic.  That's not to say flash wins over the content of a song, but "One Thing" isn't quite as memorable as it needs to be to beat out some of the more visually expansive performances.

I don't see this one making the finals in Vienna, but it may be closer to the edge than one would initially think.  It's all down to song vs. performance.

First Listen: Montenegro presents Knez's "Adio" Mon, 23 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 53bbf1a0-681f-4d07-a70c-4248dbbee85d Montenegro's trying to be respectable in this year's Eurovision Song Contest with Knez's "Adio", but are they forgettable?

It's been interesting to watch the transition Montenegro's been attempting in the Eurovision Song Contest the past few years.  They've gone from sending an entry with a humor to it that comes from knowing your country is small enough that it likely won't get the votes it needs to win (see: "Euro Neuro", "Igranka") to one that's clearly trying to be middle of the road enough to make it to the finals (see last year's "Moj Svet", which did in fact crack the finals and actually got some 12-points from its nearby neighbors).  They're finally getting the results they want, but the last year's entry was completely bland to my ears.  How does this year's compare?  Have they finally found a middle ground?

Well, not so much.  This feels very much of a piece with last year's entry, to the point where I had to double check to make sure Knez wasn't just a group featuring last year's singer.  The song, much like last year's, is nice, but unremarkable in terms of melody.  It's certainly pleasant, and Knez has a nice voice, but it just doesn't make waves for me, and I wouldn't be surprised if the staging for this one is on the stoic side.  I'm really hoping Montenegro finds a way to keep it interesting in the contest next year, since I miss stuff like "Igranka".  It was ridiculous, but at least we were talking about it - this entry seems destined to be forgotten.

First Listen: San Marino Sun, 22 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 e661f77d-8cd7-4130-b2e2-a4df53f9e0e4 San Marino's finally sent an artist other than Valentina Monetta!  Now they just need to find a new songwriter...

I never thought I'd see the day when the San Marinese entry for the Eurovision Song Contest wasn't Valentina Monetta - the microstate seemed perfectly happy to keep sending a song written by Ralph Siegel and sung by her, and they finally managed to find a combination that made it all the way to the finals((even if "Crysalide" was the superior of the three songs))!  Times change, I guess, and it was nice to see another name listed for their entry.  Let's see if Ania & Michele's "Chain of Lights" is a step up or down from reliable Valentina...

From a performance standpoint, this is nice - Anita and Michele clearly have performing experience((even if not together--apparent Michele found out he was performing a duet in the car on the way to the press conference)) and can hold their own with this song.  Which makes it unfortunate that San Marino seems to be happy to let Ralph Siegel steer their ship((I only like Siegel when I'm mishearing his lyrics)).  His songs, while nice, tend to be overly sappy and reflect a side of Eurovision that's a bit out of vogue at the moment.  "Chain of Light" is no exception - it's the type of let's-hold-hands, dreams-come-true thing that's overdone, and his melodies tend to be a bit saccharine when mixed with English lyrics.  Depending on the field in their semi-final, this could sneak through to the final, but I don't expect it to place well if it makes it there.

Eurovision First Listen: It's Time for Azerbaijan's "Hour of the Wolf" Sun, 22 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 ea486f3b-cc9a-4d74-ab40-5ab1556f0873 Azerbaijan tries to bounce back from last year's disappointing placement by bringing Eurovision alum Elnur Huseynov back with "Hour of the Wolf."

Azerbaijan found itself in very unfamiliar territory following last year's Eurovision Song Contest, falling out of the Top 10 for the first time ever and landing in a dismal 21st place.((They tied with Italy.)) To be fair, "Start a Fire" was a bit of a meandering ballad to nowhere with a stage performance involving more setting up and dangling by an aerialist than actual spectacle. This year, Azerbaijan tries to get back on top with Elnur Huseynov's "Hour of the Wolf"—let's take a listen:

I guess Azerbaijan is blaming the aerialist rather than a meandering song going nowhere for last year's woes. Either that or they are hoping the alumni card will work in Huseynov's favor. He was one half of Azerbaijan's first-ever Eurovision act Elnur & Samir, who finished in 8th place in 2008. Granted, "Hour of the Wolf" is the opposite of "Day After Day", but at least the latter song had something to latch onto.

I've listened to this song three times immediately before starting this post and it has already fallen out of my head. There is no discernible hook, the lyrics come across slightly marble-mouthed, and there are enough depressing ballads in both semi-finals that "Hour of the Wolf" will have a difficult time distinguishing itself.

Could Azerbaijan's perfect final appearance streak be coming to an end?

First Listen: Australia Wants to Do "Tonight Again" Fri, 20 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 d08a85bc-a9c6-4c95-8295-4dddf52c0790 Australia's presence in Eurovision won't be a one-night stand, if Guy Sebastian has anything to say about it.

Apparently the Eurovision Song Contest is A Big Deal in the land down under -- enough so that an Australian broadcaster has carried the contest for the past 30 years.((GET IT TOGETHER, BBC AMERICA.)) For this Very Special (60th Anniversary) ESC, Australia has paid a metric buttload of money to upgrade themselves from interval act to fully-fledged competitor. In celebration of this once-in-a-lifetime((Or, as frequently as ESC is hard up for cash)) opportunity, we polled the entire Eurovision coverage team for their thoughts:


It feels oddly appropriate that for a country that’s only getting one chance to be part of the Eurovision fun((unless they either win or the ESC officials see enough dollar signs in their eyes that this becomes a thing)), the song they send is about making the most of a party night.  After slogging through what feels like 40 duet ballads, it’s really nice to see something uptempo, even if it sounds like the store-brand version of “Uptown Funk” - I'm really interested to see what stays and goes in terms of the actual live presentation of this song.  Just given its ability to stand out in the field, I think Australia’s debut in the competition won’t be a complete fiasco.


I'm glad Australia isn't being complacent about its Eurovision entry.((coughUnited Kingdomcough)) "Tonight Again" is a fantastic blend of Guy Sebastian's voice and instrumentation. The track taps into a lot of the pop sensibilities of "Uptown Funk", which is oddly current and relevant for a Eurovision entry. I'm curious if the background vocals from the original track will be able to translate to the main stage--up to five backup singers may not be enough, but maybe the audience will fill in what's missing. Also, bonus points for the Aussies bringing the party to what has the potential to be a low-key affair with all the duet ballads.


I absolutely think this entry is Australia's bid to permanently expand the Big Five into the Big Six -- and it's a good one. I see why Ben and Mike are comparing it to "Uptown Funk," but "Tonight Again" lacks the punch and bassline that contribute so much to making the Ronson/Mars collaboration a great earworm and dance song. I'd locate this entry closer to a funkier, slightly less saccharine cousin of Denmark's "Cliché Love Song," which I loved, and which landed in a very respectable 9th place. Is this song going to win? Hell no, at least I hope not. But compared to the stinkers the Big Five keep sending up every year? This is actually a pretty great entry. The biggest problem, in my mind, will be Guy Sebastian's charisma (or lack thereof). We didn't get a true sense of his performing personality in this video, but he better aim high if he wants to fill the Eurovision stage.

First Listen: Russia's Gonna Russia With "A Million Voices" Fri, 20 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 c1c1b194-7778-40ac-8b75-a55c36fb1587 Russia's Eurovision entries tend to be cute and enjoyable, or hypocritical and insufferable. Take a guess as to which one we'll see in 2015.

I'd be lying if I said I never enjoyed a Russian Eurovision performance. Alexey Vorobyov brought us a great boy-band throwback number in 2011, and who can forget the Babushki from 2012? From a more traditional perspective of Eurovision success, one need only look to the '00s, in which Russia brought home two bronze medals (including one from t.A.T.u. -- yes, THAT t.A.T.u), two silvers, and a gold in 2008.((Fun fact! The Russian entry in 2009 was sung in both Russian and Ukranian.)) My problem with Russia is, every now and then they'll try to sneak in an entry about Making A Better Planet, and because I actually pay attention to what's happening in the world, I just completely can't.((Another fun fact! The 2014 entry from the Tolmachevy twins, features the lyrics "Maybe there's a place, maybe there's a time, maybe there's a day you'll be mine." Which is of course not creepy at all.)) So, which Russia is going to show up this year, the fun one? Or the suuuuuuper hypocritical vaguely creepy one?

With that buildup, did you really have any doubt? Of course it's the suuuuuuper hypocritical Russia that will be showing up. Beyond the eye-rolling politics of it, "A Million Voices" isn't even a very good song. I love the tone of Polina Gagarina's voice, but the orchestral music behind her is sappy, without the well-crafted lyrics to back up the emotion. For example: "We are the world's people, different but we're the same / We believe, we believe in the dream." What dream are we talking about, here? And then: "Praying for peace and healing, I hope we can start again" while we watch cute kids with balloons look straight-faced at the camera. Yes, trot out the cute almost totally white kids! Lastly: "Your heart is like a beating drum" over a series of snare drum rolls ... if your heart sounds like a snare drum rolling, you need to get to a doctor post-haste.

To be fair, I'm biased against issue songs as it is -- but I can appreciate them, when well-done. I wrote earlier about Romania's issue song, which does a pretty great job of creating an emotional connection between the audience and a specific problem. The same goes for Hungary's anti-war entry. Both songs have something to say, whereas Russia's entry seems like it doesn't. Except, maybe, hey look over here and don't notice the terrible things we're doing in the world!((To be clear, this is exactly the same feeling I get when people sing God Bless America or God Bless the USA.)) The geopolitical context makes this song laughable, but even outside that context, it's faux-emotional, trying to provoke a response without actually saying anything. Hopefully this song will end up in the middle or bottom of the pack, where it belongs.

First Listen: Is Israel's Eurovision Entry "Golden"? Thu, 19 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 7dd59244-734c-4729-89d9-763b862cbebb After last year's shocking snub from the Eurovision finals, will Israel's ADD approach take them all the way?

One of the more shocking results last year's Eurovision Song Contest (for me, at least) was that Israel's song, the strong-seeming "Same Heart", was nowhere near the finals of the competition.  What had felt like a lock for getting through the semifinals faltered once it got to the voters that really matter, but I was still stunned.  Let's take a look at this year's entry, Nadav Guedj's "Golden Boy":

Well, the nice thing about this song is that if you don't like it, give it about 20-30 seconds because it'll be a completely different song by then.  Things move from ballad to breakup song to club anthem in the space of a minute and a half, and that's not even counting the Tel Aviv namedrop that comes immediately after.  The schizophonic approach seems like a mistake here - it's distracting, but not distracting enough that you ignore the simplicity of the rhyme scheme or the generic backing music.

If there's one thing in this entry's favor, it's Nadav's presence as a performer.  He seems to have the energy needed to carry this song and, given the right staging, this might not be as doomed as I make it out to be.  He may be the glue this otherwise fractured entry needs.

First Listen: Could Sweden be the "Heroes" of Eurovision? Thu, 19 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 a9876ae7-e8c1-4779-b7ae-a33264a4ec77 What starts out as "Breaking Bad the Musical" could send Sweden home with another Eurovision victory.

It wouldn't be a stretch to call Sweden a Eurovision powerhouse. In fifty-four years of participation, the Swedes have racked up six bronze, one silver, and five gold medals (including the 1974 winner, a little-known song called Waterloo). More amazingly: they have medalled three of the past four years, including Loreen's mumbly and dark winner, Euphoria. Can Sweden bring the 2015 Eurovision title back to Northern Europe?

I have so many thoughts and feelings about this entry. It starts out as Breaking Bad the Musical, complete with a terrible Swedish impression of an American Western/Southwestern accent, then morphs into a more traditional angsty pop/dance number. The custom CGI is really cool, but requires a level of exactitude that is hard to count on during a live performance, and is clearly geared toward the at-home audience. Also, I don't get why all of the rolly-pollys are wearing dunce caps. Are they supposed to be the demons in his mind? I wish my mind-demons were so cute, friendly, and generally innocuous.

I am completely confused by the performance choices for this entry, and yet I LIKE IT SO RIDICULOUSLY MUCH. The song itself is well-produced and catchy as hell, if not particularly original in sound or concept. Like Loreen and Sanna Nielsen before him, Måns Zelmerlöw has a great voice, easy stage presence, and is incredibly charismatic. (Did I mention he looks great in leather pants?) There aren't many weaknesses to the song or performance overall, other than the risk of Måns being caught out-of-place during the CGI sections, and the fact that he was clearly struggling to get the laser prop off his hand and into his pocket in the middle section.

Meanwhile, one of this entry's biggest strengths (other than the fact that Måns looks great in leather pants) is its atmosphere; in that respect I'm finding it similar to a number of recent successful entries (Calm Before the Storm, Only Teardrops, Hold Me, the aforementioned Euphoria). That's incredibly good company to be in. I may not know exactly where this song has transported me, but I do know that I have already watched it a dozen times, and caught myself humming it while making dinner last night. My guess is "Heroes" will easily transport Sweden back into the top five, and will make Måns a strong contender to win.

Eurovision First Listen: Norway's "A Monster Like Me" Wed, 18 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 84465829-708b-4741-aef8-b70c438f2f8b Could Norway's "A Monster Like Me" by Mørland and Debrah Scarlett be a monstrous success at Eurovision?

One of the strategies that manifests at every Eurovision Song Contest is to borrow elements from the previous year's competition. It would have been awesome if 1/3 to 1/2 of the entries this year were critiques of the concept of the gender binary, but alas that is not the case. Instead, many countries have moved on to aping last year's runner-up entry from the Netherlands.

If you were going to pick any entry from which to draw inspiration, "Calm After the Storm" by the Common Linnetts is a fantastic choice. Duets tend to do very well in the Contest, and a well-crafted and sincere ballad should be rewarded. That seems to be the approach Norway is taking with their selection, "A Monster Like Me" by Mørland & Debrah Scarlett:

The song, while a downer, definitely checks the "well-crafted ballad" box. My concern lies with the performance. Granted, the above video was from the end of Norsk Melodi Grand Prix after Mørland & Debrah Scarlett were named the winners, so the thrill of victory likely interfered with the harmonies and caused smiles during the serious moments. However, the staging did not leave much of an impression. The interlude before the powerful finish had a lot of dead air with little movement on the stage. That's not going to work in an arena setting.

I also hope to see some wardrobe enhancements for both performers. I found Mørland's blazer/t-shirt combo to be a bit of a mismatch, even if he is claiming to be the monster of the relationship. I liked the idea of Scarlett's dress, but the zipper in the back bunched up in an unflattering way and became a distraction.

All in all, this is a solid entry from Norway. I don't think "A Monster Like Me" needs any tweaking, which means the duo can work on creating a strong and memorable stage performance for Vienna.

First Listen: Austria Wed, 18 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 1b70bdee-2f30-4314-a4e5-b0be9f509139 Does Austria have a Eurovision two-peat in the works?  Probably not.

If you're hosting Eurovision and you're not one of the Big Six Seven  Who Even Knows Anymore Fine Australia Can Come Play Now Too Countries That Help Fund Eurovision, your entry that year has three goals:

  1. Isn't a carbon copy of the song that won the year before
  2. Proves to the rest of the competitors that you deserved the win the previous year
  3. Doesn't win again

It's pretty simple.  How does Austria's entry, The Makemakes' "I Am Yours", stack up against these goals?

Well, I think this passes the test.  While not "Rise Like A Phoenix", "I Am Yours" manages to be its own entry and to remind viewers that Austria nailed it last year, but this doesn't feel like the strongest entry in the field.  There's a nice musicality to this entry, and it's nice to have at least one entry in the competition that's neither a slow ballad nor a terrifying 20s revival.  I get shades of Coldplay's "The Scientist" in the melody line((which I wouldn't say is a bad thing, since that song was massive)), but there's a nice bluesiness to the lead singer's voice as well.

As far as performance goes, even if they're not going for the win, Austria needs to step it up.  Just singing behind the piano is boring and not that great from a TV perspective (especially if we can see that someone else is playing the piano for you).  Hopefully Austria tries to make things a little more dynamic - we know they can be a powerhouse if they try.

"Don't Deny" Armenia's Chance to do well at Eurovision Mon, 16 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 930176a7-81b4-4e5a-be02-e8a48c14473a Armenia will share a dark part of its history with "Don't Deny" at the Eurovision Song Contest. Will the song honor memories or miss out on the final?

After making a run for the top slot in last year's Eurovision Song Contest, Armenia is taking a step back to recognize its own history. 2015 marks 100 years since the Armenian Genocide, when upwards of 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the crumbling Ottoman Empire. It is probably in everyone's interest that Turkey is not participating in this year's Contest, as the country (the modern forebear of the Ottoman Empire) does not recognize what happened in Armenia as a genocide.

Enter Genealogy, a supergroup composed of six Armenians from all over the world as a result of the diaspora brought about by the events a century ago. Take a listen to their track "Don't Deny":

I find this entry rather intriguing. When I did my actual first listen of "Don't Deny" when it was introduced last week, my initial thought was "hmm, this is kind of all over the place."((No surprise, since all six members are literally from all over the place.)) However, this was before I was aware of the context surrounding this song. Upon a few more listens, the social activist in me loves how this entry is skirting the "No politics, s'il vous plait" rule that Eurovision sorta kinda has.((Sidebar: LOL.))

Let me be clear: I think Armenia is completely on the sunny side of whatever "no politics" murkiness may exist with this entry. The lyrics are vague enough to not be political—this is not a "We Don't Wanna Put In" situation. I think the video may push a few buttons, but it could easily be described as tribute (plus it is executed quite well).

The success of this entry will likely come down to presentation. When I hear "supergroup", I fear it could be a repeat of Croatia's 2012 entry. Though that song was lovely and executed on a technical level, the performance lacked movement and was not telegenic in the slightest. If this song is just six people standing on stage standing behind microphones in a v-pattern, ending in a straight line, reaching for the sky and hands dropping down, an impression will not be made.

I hope Armenia seriously considers the stage performance—which has often been the country's weakness. "Don't Deny" could do quite well in Vienna with the right strategy.

Eurovision First Listen: The Czech Republic's "Hope Never Dies" Mon, 16 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 c449dbb0-cb57-48e9-9d95-ad78471b5c5a It's been 6 years since they last entered the competition - can the Czech Republic make a return to the Eurovision Song Contest finals?

Let's go way waaaaaay back 6 years, to 2009.  30 Rock was still on TV, yours truly was still finishing up undergrad, and Russia was hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.  That was the last time the Czech Republic entered the contest with their entry "Aven Romale" by  It featured their singer dressed as a bell-bottomed superhero with a cape AND mustache, and is far worse than that description makes it sound.  It's not even an entertaining sort of bad entry, it's just embarrassing.  Fittingly, the entry received 0 points.  Total.  That nul poin finish was enough to make the Czechs check themselves((before they wrzeched themselves I'M NOT SORRY)) and sit the competition out.  Now they're back!  Is Marta Jandova and Vaclav Noid Barta's "Hope Never Dies" any better than their last entry?

I get that everyone seems to be copying the Dutch entry from last year because it did so well, but I'm about ready to scream if I have to sit through another mid-tempo duet.  What made The Common Linnets so special wasn't just their vocal/actual chemistry, it was the Americana/country angle of their song.  None of the entries I've heard have really captured that, although I have to say I'm liking the power ballad angle the Czechs have taken.  Vaclav's voice reminds me of Chad Kroeger's ((which is not a good thing at all)), but his sound pairs nicely with Marta's.  Don't focus too hard on the lyrics of this one; there's a lot of focus on fire and ravens and darkness before it gets to the final HOPE NEVER DIES.

This is one of the first entries I've seen this season where I haven't had a performance video to judge this on.  Hopefully both singers are as good on the stage as their are in the studio, otherwise all the power this one has is likely to get sucked out of the arena.  This is one of the ballads that can really go for the gusto as far as dramatics in the performance, so hopefully we get a ridiculous outfit or a LOT of wind machine on this one to go with the dramatic instrumentation of the song.

First Listen: Latvia Gets "Love Injected" Fri, 13 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 e3ef3256-e9a2-4b88-b75a-120818c1476a Latvia's bringing an experimental edge to their Eurovision entry this year - will the gamble pay off?

Latvia hasn't made the Eurovision final in 7 years.  In fairness, they have a track record of picking songs which I've previously compared to the soundtrack to an abstinence pep rally or a group of street performers accidentally wandering into the studio.  They seem happy to march to the beat of their own crazy drum, whether the rest of Europe agrees with them or not.  Let's see if this year's entry, Aminata's "Love Injected", seems likely to continue that trend:

If Belgium is aping Lorde with their entry, the closest analogue I can come up with for Aminata's sound is a more pop-focused FKA Twigs.  There's an experimental electronic to the edge in the verses, but when the chorus hits, it's all Eurovision.  Much like FKA Twigs (for me at least), there's something that rewards repeated listens of the song - with the right performance, this could be a dark horse to do well in the finals, not just the semi-finals.

As far as the staging, I'd like to see that improve - Aminata's a singer and songwriter, but it seems like she may not be a dancer.  Which is a shame - a truly creative and compelling performance that pushes this song's unique energy would only be a benefit here.  Belgium's the type to tweak their song/performance to get things just right - here's hoping this isn't the year they forego that crucial step.

First Listen: Belgium Goes All Out with "Rhythm Inside" Fri, 13 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 bbc97f8a-05cf-4221-ad69-e1c7426a1544 Belgium steps outside of the Eurovision comfort zone with the funky "Rhythm Inside" by Loïc Nottet. Could a big risk result in a big reward?

When asked to make a list of forward-thinking countries when it comes to Eurovision Song Contest entries, Belgium doesn't immediately jump to mind. Yes, they did finish in 2nd place in 2003 with a song that had a created language, but then they failed to qualify for the 2008 final with the same gambit. Their entries in the last few years have ranged from bland (2012) to baffling (2011) to awkward (2014).

Then along comes Loïc Nottet with the track "Rhythm Inside"—a combination of jazz, electronic, and confident vocals. Take a listen:

The more I listen to this song, the more I like it. This is the closest Eurovision will probably ever get to Lorde's sound, but there are also elements of Siouxsie and the Banshees which are always a pleasant surprise. Although this song is a great slow jam in your car, I'm curious how this will translate on the stage. There are a lot of pitfalls a song like this could fall into: static performers, not taking advantage of cameras or video displays, or getting swallowed by the venue and losing the song's charisma.

There is one other pitfall which an entry like this can't avoid: is it too forward-thinking for the Contest? "Rhythm Inside" is not only unlike the other entries competing this year, it seems to be occupying the same space rap and dubstep entries have held the last few years. Granted, Armenia did well last year with its dubstep-ish entry((included being the projected winner for a good chunk of the lead-up to the Contest)), but that seemed to be an exception to a rule.

I'm on-board with this entry, insofar as it will probably get added to my Eurovision gym mix. I'll withhold my enthusiasm for the track until we see how the semi-final fields firm up over the next couple weeks.

First Listen: Portugal Scales Back the Theatrics for Eurovision Thu, 12 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 2288027b-18a5-4fff-8818-2eaaad60e3a7 Portugal keeps it simple this year with their Eurovision entry "Há um mar que nos separa" (If It's the Sea that Separates Us) by Leonor Andrade. Good move.

Wait a minute, I'm confused. I think I like Portugal's Eurovision Song Contest entry? This is a surprising change of events, as the country continues to struggle with getting into the Final for the first time since 2010. Let's take a listen to "Há um mar que nos separa" (If It's the Sea that Separates Us) by Leonor Andrade:

Considering how few entries this year have an actual band providing instrumentation, this entry is a breath of fresh air. I will be the first to admit that the melody sounds a bit dated, even going so far as to call it a little Lilith Fair fare. However, that's smack dab in the middle of my musical sensibilities, which is part of the reason I'm responding so positively to this entry.

In terms of the competition, this is the first time in a long time when Portugal has produced a track that an audience outside of Portugal could connect with it. The tone of the song is somber without being maudlin. Assuming the translation provided in the above video is accurate, the story comes across even if you do not understand the literal words to express it.

My suggestion for Andrade would be to build up her vocals over the next two months, particularly her breathing. There were points in the above performance that sounded rather thin. If it sounds like that in a TV studio, it will sound worse in an arena setting. I'm not a fan of the outfit she's wearing, but judging by previous Portuguese entries, I'm not going to like any of the costuming.

This song could be a turning point for Portugal. I'll be curious to see how they do in May.

First Listen: Is the UK Trolling Eurovision? Thu, 12 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 fa143173-58f0-4ed6-b26a-060ed39cf485 We're not so sure the United Kingdom is "Still in Love with You", Eurovision.

Let's chat about the concept of the Eurovision Song Contest Big 5, shall we? France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom get to bypass the nuisance of actually competing to make it to the Final because they are major financial contributors to Eurovision. Don't read this as an unfair advantage: Germany is the only one of those countries to win in the 15 years that this system has been in place and Italy was in the midst of an extended hiatus when this decision came about.

Of course, Germany and Italy seem to be the only ones in this group taking the competition aspect seriously. Both use a highly competitive selection process in devising their entries, rewarding songs with critical praise and good placement in the overall standings. France, Spain, and the United Kingdom tend to favor internal selections that lack any sort of strategy or relevance in the modern pop music landscape. Take, for example, the UK's entry this year: "Still in Love with You" by the duo Electro Velvet:

This entry angers me. First, faux-1920s nostalgia is not a thing, no matter how hard Baz Luhrmann tries. Lyrically, the song doesn't tell a story and is filled with simple rhymes lacking any sort of wit. The calls to dance are going to make staging a challenge for this track, as the six-person limit for stage performers may force the backup singers or Electro Velvet to pull double duty—which has a high train wreck potential. The worst part of "Still in Love with You" happens at the 1:50 mark, in what could best be described as audible blackface. So no, I do not like this song.

Turkey may have a point in staying out of the Contest if countries are advancing to the Final with songs that have zero chance of winning. My proposal: the lowest ranking Big 5 entry from the previous year should be forced to compete in the semi-finals. This would spark some competition among the auto-qualifiers, which would in turn make the entries more competitive in the overall field.

Whatever you do, United Kingdom, please stop sending entries like this to Eurovision.

First Listen: Poland is Not Sending a U2 Cover Wed, 11 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 6caeba65-43ed-4c20-8a33-1062c60d0de8 In the name of Poland, Monika Kuszyńska will present "In the Name of Love" (no -- not that one!) in Vienna.

After a couple years away from the contest, Poland came back strong in 2014 with a FANTASTIC entry. Donatan and Cleo's track, "My Slowianie" (Slavic Girls), only placed 14th in the finals -- but the two official videos (one in English and one in Polish) racked up 50+ million views, making it Eurovision's most popular online song, ever. It's not difficult to see why. It's also interesting to note that Poland ranked 5th with televoters -- it was the older, more conservative juries that brought their subversive entry tumbling down in the rankings. But enough about last year. In 2015, Poland once again relied on an internal (i.e. secret) selection process. What performer and song came out on top?

Monika Kuszyńska is well-known in Poland; she was the lead singer for the pop band Varius Manx until the group got into a car accident that left her in a wheelchair. I'm thrilled the contest will feature an visibly disabled artist this year; Monika is apparently the first wheelchair user to compete on the Eurovision stage. There's no reason why that should be the case, and I hope Monika does well, if only to encourage other countries to better support and promote artists with disabilities.

From a musical perspective ... well, I'm a fan of Monika's but not so much of her song, or the accompanying music video. I'm biased against ballads as it is, and this one has nothing to make it stand out from an especially crowded field this year. I love the clarity of Monika's voice, the overall message is a good one, and the lyrics even incorporate the contest theme: "Let's build a bridge from heart to heart in the name of love." But from the piano, to the reliance on hi-hat, to the uninspired bass line -- it's just beige. Exactly like the video! (And don't even get me started on the choice to have Monika SITTING ON THE FLOOR for almost the entire thing. Seeeeeethe.)

Long story short: I don't think there's much Poland can do about the song at this point; they're not going to make dramatic changes -- and anyway, it's not offensive, just boring. But they can do something about their poor staging choices. I will keep my fingers crossed.

First Listen: Romania Starts All Over Again Wed, 11 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 08f58daa-6773-4ab9-a2df-86ae4a88ebf3 Like its smaller eastern neighbor Moldova, Romania doesn't shy away from weird.

Like its smaller eastern neighbor Moldova, Romania doesn't shy away from weird. Last year's circle piano prop was both completely unnecessary and hilariously bad, 2013 featured a falsetto vampire, and 2012 brought us the moonwalking, bagpiping Elvis. Because why the hell not.

Here's what the Romanians have in store for us in 2015:

Well that's ... not what I expected at all.  Based on the above performance of "De la capăt" ("All Over Again") in the national final and the official music video, this is a song about child abandonment, which is apparently a pretty big problem in Romania. The tone of the visuals is gray, sad, and depressing as a young boy searches fruitlessly for his mother. In contrast, the lyrics (sung from the child's perspective?) are actually pretty hopeful given the circumstances. The juxtaposition gives this song an emotional depth we don't often see at Eurovision. In the right context, it might even qualify as a tearjerker. From a performance standpoint, this song is really well-constructed and performed, but that's no surprise. Voltaj is a famous band that's been bringing their brand of pop-rock to Romania for over 30 (!!) years. Any group that can stay around that long has to have some charisma, and I'll be interested to see how well that translates to the Eurovision stage.

I generally am not here for Eurovision entries that dramatize abuse, but this one tells an emotionally nuanced story from the perspective of the victim, instead of focusing on an outsider with a savior complex while defining the victim only by their victimhood. It's really well put-together, and I don't see any major flaws that would prevent this from placing high into the finals. If I have a complaint, it's that the song might be too complex and dark for Eurovision audiences. I had to listen three times to the English version of the song to understand its message. (That's partially because I was 100% not expecting or ready for this.)

So, despite the heaviness of the song and how uncomfortable I feel "cheering" for it, I think I like this entry? And I hope it does well? And I might cry when Voltaj performs? The one thing I can say for sure: Voltaj should sing the Romanian version. Others have pointed out some of the problems with the English lyris. Mostly, I just love listening to Romanian, and enjoy it when countries bring a language other than English to the song contest.

Eurovision First Listen: Greece Gets "One Last Breath" in the Contest Tue, 10 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0500 22e1ab91-bdea-4904-874c-890897a2aaa2 After doubts they'd be in the Eurovision Song Contest this year, Greece has submitted "One Last Breath".  Does it leave us gasping for more?

When you've been watching the Eurovision Song Contest as long as I have, patterns start to emerge.  Not necessarily with the winners; Europe's collective mind seems to change there from year to year.  Within individual countries, however, patters for the type of entries they send definitely make themselves clear.  There's no country where this is more evident than Greece: if they're not sending a female singer singing about love in a short skirt((see: 2008, 2012)), they're sending some dudes singing about how tonight is our night and we should live it up((see: 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014)).  They rarely break from this pattern because it delivers results - they've made the finals every year since semi-finals were introduced.  This year's entry, Maria Elena Kyriakou's "One Last Breath", feels like a break from either of those recognizable patterns.  Let's take a look:

I will give Greece this: Maria can sing.  This is a technically proficient performance, and the fact that this video is of a live performance speaks well to her ability to deliver this song on a stage.  I just wish the song was better.  It's easily recognized as a ballad, and there definitely seems to be something about "One Last Breath" in the lyrics there, but the song itself isn't really connecting with me.  I got excited by the key change that comes mid-way through the song, as it felt like the tempo was going to pick up, but it was just a standard key change.  It's perfectly pleasant, but it hasn't grabbed me in the way the last few Eurovision winners clearly have.  Greece doesn't tend to play around much with its entries once they've been chosen, so this is what we're getting.

As far as staging, I think Greece has the right idea here.  Focusing on Maria's vocals with some stage movement is good - this song is one that doesn't call for more than singer and accompanist given its more technical nature.  Overall, though, this performance is like the song itself to me - nice, but nothing that leaves me gasping for more.

Germany's Ann Sophie Sends Eurovision a "Black Smoke" Signal Tue, 10 Mar 2015 10:00:00 -0500 eecc90a2-4369-4386-b2a2-db3170c70e02 Germany was thrown a curveball when the runner-up of its Eurovision selection process became the representative. Does "Black Smoke" by Ann Sophie stand a chance of winning?

Germany's route to the Eurovision Song Contest hit a surprising bump last week. The finalists for Unser Star für Österreich (Our Star for Austria) were "Heart of Stone" by Andreas Kümmert and "Black Smoke" by Ann Sophie. The winner, determined by televote, was Kümmert by an almost 4-1 decision. However, Kümmert declined the invitation to Vienna, giving Sophie the win by default. Um, yay? Here's the track:


I don't question Kümmert's decision, but it may put Germany in an awkward position for the Contest. As a Big 5 participant, Germany doesn't have to go through the semi-final vetting process. After winning the Contest in 2010, Deutschland scored two more top ten finishes but has since slid toward the bottom of the scoreboard. This is not due to low-quality songs—I thought last year's entry should have done better—but without the fear of not qualifying for the Final, a country could become complacent.((I will have TONS to say about this when I write about the United Kingdom's entry later this week.)) The selection process is the only audience vetting available, and "Black Smoke" did not pass that test.

But, this is the song we have, so let's discuss it. To be clear, a song like "Black Smoke" is in my wheelhouse. Ann Sophie's delivery reminds me of Paloma Faith with an ever so subtle hint of Stevie Nicks. Lyrically the song is okay, though I don't think the central metaphor is explored as much as it could be. The tune is also okay, though there isn't much of a hook in its current configuration.

Overall, this entry is okay...which is not even close to good enough. Looking at video of the performance and listening to the track a few more times, "Black Smoke" feels like it would be the second song performed at Ann Sophie's concert—the comedown track following the song kicking off the festivities. There's a reason why the 2-spot in any lineup is considered the spot of doom, and Germany could find itself assigned that spot in May unless the song goes through a major revamp.

First Listen: Moldova Wants Wants Wants Your Love Fri, 06 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0600 0903d496-e2e4-4d3b-b1b2-9b77bfc95a13 Eduard Romanyuta keeps Moldova's hilarious and bizarre Eurovision streak alive.

Anyone who will listen knows that Moldova is my favorite Eurovision country over the last five years. From Epic Sax Guy, to a unicycle-riding fairy with an ear trumpet, to some bizarre backup dancers, and a dress on fire that grows, Moldova is one of the few countries that consistently keeps Eurovision weird, which for me is the entire reason to watch. After last year's misstep (let's just agree to pretend that Wild Soul didn't happen), Moldova is back on track with Eduard Romanyuta's "I Want Your Love."

Let me be crystal clear: this entry is trash, complete and utter trash, and it's fantastic for precisely that reason. It's like whoever planned this entry was working off a Eurovision Drinking Game rule list. They found an Axl Rose lookalike who can't sing, gave him some terrible lyrics ("The picture that you're painting got me all anticipating") to work with, put him in some joggers and a flat rim "Ballin" hat, paired him with a Aaliyah knockoff, then finished the whole thing off with lots of fire for absolutely no reason. To my taste, this is the recipe for a perfect Eurovision entry.

The one change Moldova needs to make from the national final: ditch the ending, when the female dancer / object of affection comes up with a beard, and the singer looks surprised and disgusted. At best it's simply not funny. (Given the state of LGBTQ rights in Moldova, I'm not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on that.) At worst it's a reference to the gay / trans panic defense that is frequently used to retroactively explain and excuse the beating and/or murder of LGBTQ people. Previous performances of this song had a different ending, with the lead singer kissing the lead dancer, so that is an easy fix to make. (Right, Moldova?)

I was completely ready to be mad that Moldova didn't select SunStroke Project, whose 2010 entry birthed the Epic Sax Guy meme and was the start of the country's spectacular run. But to be honest, SunStroke's entry ("Day After Day") was neither good enough nor terrible enough to merit serious consideration. So, in the end, Moldova made the right choice. I wouldn't be surprised if "I Want Your Love" fails to qualify for the finals; even if it does qualify, it should and likely will end up in the mid-teens or lower. But, for me, Eurovision isn't about great songs. It's about over-the-top performances that, for better or worse, you wouldn't see anywhere else.

Eurovision First Listen: Slovenia is "Here For You" Thu, 05 Mar 2015 12:00:00 -0600 c8185462-d44c-4bb0-8263-480d5c171c73 It feels like Slovenia has a decent entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, if they can edit down their presentation.

Slovenia's had a rough go of it in the recent history of the Eurovision Song Contest.  Since the introduction of semi-finals, it's only made it to the final 3 times, with the most recent being last year's "Round and Round", which only squeaked through its semifinal to make it in.  Looking over the past entries, it's clear that Slovenia tends to march to the beat of its own drum, whether that drum is the type that will have broad appeal or not.  Let's see if this year's entry has any luck:

First, let's focus on the song itself.  While the combination of the more jazzy style of singing with a more energetic backing mostly reminds me of remix compilations that mash up old standards with trip-hop, I think I like the main part of the song.  Assuming she's not lip-syncing here((which I'm 99% certain she is)), Maraaya has a pleasant voice, albeit one with a Ariana Grande-like tendency to make the words she's singing sound like absolute gibberish.  The generally uplifting "I'm here for you" theme feels nice and universal and definitely seems like it will have a broad appeal.

Okay, with that out of the way, let's talk about the presentation in this video.  I have so many unanswerable questions, you guys.  Why is this taking place in a large, mostly-empty warehouse?  Are the two other performers in the space aware they're also being filmed?  Is the long visible headphone cord part of the aesthetic?  There are about 5 different ideas going on at once with this current presentation, and while on their own they're all pretty cool (bionic violin lady, long dress, hyperactive stage lighting), together they're almost a parody of the most Eurovision-y performance I can think of.  I'm torn between wanting Slovenia to focus their performance on just a few of these elements and asking them to include as many more as they can fit.

First Listen: Spain Releases Then Un-Releases "Amanecer" Thu, 05 Mar 2015 12:00:00 -0600 46ac6db4-b31f-4308-9f6c-4443d9b92970 Good luck finding a copy of this song through the usual channels!

As one of the Big Five countries responsible for shoring up the Eurovision Song Contest's financial status every year, Spain automatically qualifies for the Finals, and does not have to perform in the semifinal rounds. Sometimes this works brilliantly, making sure entrants like Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, one of my ESC all-time favorites, don't have to withstand legitimate musical or popular criticism in order to make it to the final evening. (Because let's be honest, "Baila el Chiki Chiki" does not stand up to criticism, even though it is the perfect entry in so many ways.) More commonly, it means Spain shows up with an entry that hasn't been properly audience-tested during the pre-contest period. Without an opportunity to make adjustments, the performance falls flat. As a result, Spain's average final placement over the past ten years is 18.5 (out of 26), with more than half of their finishes in 20th place or worse.

For the 2015 contest, Spain announced Edurne would be their performer in mid-January, but waited until this weekend to release the recording of her song, Amanecer.

[Since I started writing this post, every available copy of the song on YouTube, including the one I used to preview the song, has been taken down via copyright challenges. I'll update this post with a new source if/when I can find one.]

[Update: I've found another copy, hopefully this one will last ...]

The first comparison that popped into my mind was Frozen ... both songs seem to live in the same universe, even if Edurne's is more dubstep-influenced than Madonna's track. While I enjoy Amanecer's atmosphere, it's important to remember that taking musical cues from a song that's almost 20 years old((I KNOW.)) is not necessarily a good thing. Beyond that, this is a well-produced but ultimately thin song, and we spend a lot of time listening to the backing track, elongated notes, and / or the singer's equivalent of heartbroken moaning. (At Eurovision, if you're gonna go that route, you need to go big or go home.) Edurne has a great voice, and overall it's perfectly enjoyable, but there's nothing about this song that catches me and says "LISTEN TO ME!" or, alternatively, "DANCE TO ME!"

The lack of any kind of visual performance to go along with the audio makes this worse. If Spain wants to avoid another decade in the Eurovision cellar, they need to start being a little bit more open and iterative about their selection process. Releasing the audio, forgoing video, and then actively pursuing a takedown strategy on YouTube only alienates the entry from potential voters and other Eurovision fans. On the other hand, if this is Spain's way of guaranteeing they'll never win or have to host again ... keep it up, you're doing great!

Eurovision: Finland's "Aina mun pitää" Goes for Win Number 2 Wed, 04 Mar 2015 12:00:00 -0600 3cb9371f-8fe1-4f01-be89-d8a19a76ae9b Finland will be a country to watch out for at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, as they are winning the "behind the music" story contest.

When one is asked "why do you love Eurovision?" the answers tend to be laced with irony and snark. Some people love the "so bad it's good" quality of the songs.((Even though some songs are objectively good.)) Sometimes it is the over-the-top performances that catches one's fancy. There is pageantry, there is drama, there are bizarre choices...I guess the irony and snark can be justified.

However, one of the things I genuinely love about the Contest is its efforts in achieving accessibility. This is a competition where a trans contestant won 15 years before trans issues entered the mainstream discussion. For the past several years, there have been performances that reached out to the deaf community. And the geographic expansion has allowed the Contest to reach populations with cultures and values different from Western Europe—adding sounds and traditions that have enhanced the musical output of the event.

This year, Finland contributes to the accessibility advancements with their selection "Aina mun pitää" ("Always I Have To") by the punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. Take a listen:

Here's the deal: Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät formed a few years ago at a workshop for developmentally disabled adults. The members of the band have been diagnosed with autism or Down's syndrome. If their story sounds familiar, it was featured in the documentary The Punk Syndrome, which won an audience award at SXSW in 2013. How cool is that?

Anyway, the song. I am quite intrigued by this entry. First, Finland is always full of surprises, sending a song of a different style and genre every single year. Traditionally heavy metal does not do well at the Contest, with the exception of Finland's sole win in 2006 with Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah." Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät have worked with Mr. Lordi in the past, so they have that going for them as well. You may have also noticed that the song is only about 90 seconds long—half the permitted time for any entry. This could mean either an elaborate performance with pyrotechnics up the wazoo as bookends, or trying to stand out with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it entry in the lineup.

Finland will be a country to watch out for at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. There is a strong story accompanying their entry, which can resonate more with an audience than the actual song. Entries like this are why I love Eurovision.

First Listen: Hungary Protests "Wars for Nothing" Wed, 04 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0600 8201bfcb-12a1-4607-a690-ff1390444e2d War protest songs are great for doing reasonably well, while virtually guaranteeing you won't have to host next year's contest. Good job, country whose name means ten arrows!

If I were a betting man, I'd wager that Hungary was unhappy with last year's fifth-place finish; that was uncomfortably close to winning, and thereby having to shoulder the burden and expense of hosting the 2015 contest. I also was unhappy with Hungary's fifth-place finish, but for different reasons: their entry was a song about a (step?)father's abuse of his daughter, and the choreography was disturbing. This year, Hungary is playing it safe -- Eurovision-wise, but perhaps not geopolitically -- by sending a protest song.

Let me start by saying I AM THRILLED somebody is getting the staging right so early in the selection process. This is an entry that calls for subtlety, to avoid distracting from the Very Important Message((War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.)) the song is trying to convey. I'm not sure I would have chosen to start with the lead singer up to her knees in dry ice / the fog of war, but in general, the staging sets the right mood. Singers emerge one-by-one as the song progresses; they slowly move through a couple of simple formations. They've even got the multimedia presentation figured out, although it would be nice if the facts displayed (death statistics, maybe?) were in English like the lyrics, not Hungarian.

If there is a weak spot to this song, musically speaking, it's the beginning; Boggie (who many folks might remember from this very cool video in which she is progressively retouched) has a great voice, but the first verse is at the bottom of her range, and she has a hard time projecting. It's not not a great way to begin a performance -- especially when there's absolutely nothing else going on to distract the audience. Otherwise, this is beautifully done, with good dynamic movement and a well-balanced quintet accompanied by a single guitarist.

Overall, I think this is a great entry. I tend not to enjoy novelty protest songs, but this one is well-crafted and avoids calling out any individual nation or leader (unlike "We Don't Wanna Put In," Georgia's withdrawn entry for the 2009 contest in Moscow), which will help with the popular vote. Based on the entries I've seen so far, "War for Nothing" should easily crack the top ten, perhaps into the top five if the various national juries go Boggie's way.

Eurovision First Listen: Italy Tue, 03 Mar 2015 12:00:00 -0600 563d9b3c-02db-453d-a16f-1d428df97101 Is Il Volo's "Grande Amore" Italy's big chance to win the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest?

Italy's done pretty well for themselves since returning to the Eurovision Song Contest a few years ago.  Their entries have consistently been quality (possibly a side effect of using the Sanremo Music Festival as their selection mechanism), and it's shown in the results.  I may have said that last year's "La Mia Citta" sounded like a DSW commercial, but it certainly deserved better than finishing in the bottom half of the finals.  Does this year's entry from Il Volo, "Grande Amore", do any better?

Every time I've listened to this song, I've felt bored for the first verse, but then the chorus kicks in and I'm entirely on board.  Il Volo definitely have the vocal talents to do this song justice live, and it also seems like they have the stage presence to capture the audience both in the arena and on the screen, so it may all be down to the taste of the audience this year.

That said, I hope that in whittling((and I do mean whittling - this song is 44 seconds too long for usual Eurovision songs)) down this entry and polishing it up, Italy finds a way to capture the energy the song has after the chorus hits and keep it up through the entire performance.  As for performance, this is a place where Italy's tendency to keep it simple((most of their recent performances have featured the performer alone or with a single instrument rather than flashy spectacles)) may do them well - a good performance with a charismatic group of performers can easily steal the show.

First Listen: Ireland Plays with Numbers Mon, 02 Mar 2015 11:00:00 -0600 6f81a4a2-b385-4ab8-9404-dd5367eff7e9 After a couple of disappointing years for the Eurovision Song Contest's winningest country, Molly Sterling looks to get Ireland back on track.

The Irish have a strong track record at the Eurovision Song Contest. When Ireland is good, they're very very good, having won the contest seven times -- more than any other country -- including five times between 1987 and 1996. When Ireland is not great, they're still entertaining. (See Dustin the Turkey from 2008, or Jedward from 2011 and 2012.) But when Ireland's bad -- as they have been recently -- they're horrid. In 2013, Ryan Dolan finished dead last with a total of five points, and last year Can-Linn and Kasey Smith failed to even qualify for the finals.

So how does this year look?

Molly Sterling has a great voice, and I love how it's rough around the edges, even as the song itself is basically radio-ready. The arrangement is well-done, although the cello player looks bored during live performances, and could contribute an extra layer of warmth to the verses. I love the dynamic peaks and valleys, especially in the last third when everyone else drops out and it's just Molly and her piano for a couple of bars. The ending could use some work, though. The way the instruments drop out, come back in, and then the song ends very quickly thereafter is confusing; I found myself thinking "Oh, the song's ending ... wait, no it's not ... wait, yes it is." Also, we need to hear more from the backing singers.

The biggest issue for this song, though, is the staging. Having a singer-songwriter who can also play the piano is compelling in a number of contexts, but Eurovision isn't one of them. Putting the singer behind a piano separates her from the audience, and it's important with a ballad to connect with the audience. There's no reason to have any musical performers on stage, in fact, unless they're also going to add visual appeal. None of these folks do, at least not at this point. The $64k question: is Molly used to, and comfortable with, performing without her instrument? Again -- she will need to connect with the audience, so any awkwardness needs to be minimized.

Ultimately, this song and entry are well-constructed. I'm generally not a fans of ballads at Eurovision unless there is something else going on with the performance. (Would I have liked Conchita Wurst's song last year had it been performed by anyone other than a drag queen? Proooooobably not, or at least not as much.) That said, I like this song and think/hope it will do well, finishing in the top half of the finals. Not a winner, but a marked improvement for the Irish in 2015.

First Listen: Lithuania Decides on a Duet "This Time" Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:00:00 -0600 7716bb38-d6fd-4200-af17-3deb90fa6986 Lithuania does not have a healthy Eurovision track record, and this year's entry doesn't hold much better promise. At least it's not another mediocre ballad?

Lithuania does not have a healthy Eurovision track record. They first entered the contest in 1994, but earned the dreaded nil points in their first performance and didn't take the stage again for five years. Since then, Lithuania has failed to participate twice more, and did not make it out of their semifinal round on five occasions (including last year's Attention). When they have made the finals they're not been much more successful. Lithuania placed 6th with the (hilarious) "We Are The Winners," but otherwise have finished no higher than 13th, usually languishing in the 20s.

This year's entry doesn't hold much promise for a better outcome. Oddly, the national selection came down to two versions of the same song: a solo performance by Mia, and the eventual winner, the duet by Monika Linkytė and Vaidas Baumila:

I can see what Lithuania is going for here; you don't have to look closely to see the references to recent successful entries from Denmark and The Netherlands. Both of those countries had something this entry does not (yet): well-designed and compelling staging. Throughout their performance in the national selection, it looks like neither of the Lithuanian singers know quite what to do with themselves ... well, except for that moment when they draw circles in the air while singing "round and round." Which ... no.

Another odd / disjointed moment comes as a result of the choice to make this a duet ... Monika's first stanza depicts how deeply she's falling in love, while Vaidas' stanza sounds like he's not all that interested and can we please just put the brakes on this situation? Overall, I'm not sure I like Mia's version better, but at least with one person singing, we get effective internal and emotional conflict. With two singers splitting stanzas the way they do, it's a little bit more like "femalez be cray-cray yo."

Last thing on staging: that kiss in the middle? I'm not sure I've ever seen anything more awkward on the Eurovision stage. And I've seen a lot of awkwardness on the Eurovision stage.

The song itself is musically unremarkable. It finds a nice groove to start with, but just stays there without any movement building towards a climax. In that way it also reminds me a bit of last year's Maltese entry. "Coming Home" was a fine song and performance, but left nothing memorable behind and finished very near the bottom of the finals. I'm not sure what Lithuania could do to make this more compelling, especially since they seem to have been banking on this song for a while. At least it's not another mediocre ballad?

First Listen: Estonia's Elina Born & Stig Rästa say "Goodbye to Yesterday" Wed, 25 Feb 2015 12:00:00 -0600 fe0d6d95-c6df-448b-b647-8cf3d4510905 Estonia's 2015 Eurovision Song Contest entry has a unique charm that could set it apart from the current pack.

I'm not sure what's gotten into the water over in the EU in the last year, but apparently it's making most of the countries send duos or duets.  So far, most of these haven't impressed me, and there hasn't been one song that's stood out as being ahead of the pack like there's been in past years (Sweden's "Euphoria" and Denmark's "Only Teardrops" felt like clear winners from the moment I first heard them).  Estonia's choice for Vienna this year, "Goodbye to Yesterday", is also a duet- let's take a listen and see if there's anything here to break away from the rest:

I'm really digging this entry - there's a 60s mod influence that's mixing with a he said/she said thing as well that's feeling like a more positive version of "Don't You Want Me".  Elina and Stig both have strong voices and good chemistry in both the recorded and live versions of the song, which will help the energy of their performance in Vienna.  For the big show, I don't usually recommend copying past entries, but if there was a song that calls for a performance where both singers are facing one another like The Netherlands last year, this one is it.  With the right staging, I could see this going all the way, and certainly to the finals.

The World is Mine: Serbia Returns to Eurovision Tue, 17 Feb 2015 11:00:00 -0600 0ed954f5-322c-4af0-8369-7a136e2ae1c7 Serbia is back, y'all! And they are not messing around. Could Bojana Stamenov's "Ceo svet je moj" be this year's first major Eurovision contender?

Serbia's back in Eurovision! Although last year's show in Copenhagen was fantastic, Serbia's presence was missed. The country took a year off, citing financial difficulties, though failing to qualify for the final in 2013 may have also forced the country to take a step back and regroup.

The time off served Serbia well, as I adore their selection "Ceo svet je moj" (The World is Mine) by Bojana Stamenov. Take a listen:

One of the reasons I love Serbia in the Eurovision Song Contest is because they know how to play the game. The song starts out with all the earmarks of a "Eurovision" song: mid-tempo ballad, an LED dress, the singer standing center stage with a straightforward delivery. Although these elements are cliché, Serbia executes at the highest level. Stamenov has a powerful voice and a charisma about her that is needed to elevate an entry from a good song to a contender. Also, a well-executed tempo change is my Eurovision catnip((See also: San Marino's "Crisalide (Vola)" from 2013. I still feel gut-punched that it did not advance.)) and this track accomplishes the feat with gusto.

Another reason I respect Serbia: they always compete in Serbian.(("Molitva" is the last non-English song to win the Contest.)) Although English would make it easier for the bulk of the audience to understand the song, Serbia's entries are able to convey the emotion and story of the song despite the language barrier. That, to me, is part of the point of the Contest and it should be rewarded when it happens.

Checking the odds at this point, Serbia is the top favorite of countries that have presented both song and artist. We still have a lot of entries to encounter between now and the real prognostication phase, but I suspect Serbia will be bouncing back from 2013.

Iceland's Eurovision Skillz Remain "Unbroken" Mon, 16 Feb 2015 11:00:00 -0600 c85ec86a-4f76-4bf9-b9ea-20394e3b28f3 Over the weekend Iceland selected "Unbroken" by María Ólafsdóttir as its representative at the Eurovision Song Contest. How does it sound?

Iceland is one of the countries I'm usually rooting for in the Eurovision Song Contest. Though the country has been a part of the competition for almost 30 years, it has yet to win, coming closest in 2009 and 1999 as runner-up both years. Although Iceland has been on a good streak recently, qualifying for the final each year from 2008 onward. Will this year's entry "Unbroken" by María Ólafsdóttir continue that trend? Let's take a listen:

There are a lot of elements to this song that can work. Although lyrically simple, "Unbroken" doesn't fall into the Eurovision trap of a simple title such as "Shine", "Smile", or "Warrior". There is a modern pop sensibility about the track, picking a thesis of sorts and meandering around the topic without diving too deeply. This song could appear on the radio and not seem completely out of the place, although not necessarily standing out in the audio landscape.

All hope is not lost for Iceland. This entry is a solid first draft and the country has not shied away from tinkering with entries between selection and the semi-finals. First, Ólafsdóttir will need a different outfit and shoes—she is reading too similarly to Eurovision's 2013 winner Emmelie de Forest. The lyrics could use another pass, as the wordiness is making some of the sections come off marble-mouthed. Ólafsdóttir's vocals are pretty solid, and should get stronger once the song takes its final shape.

As it is at the moment, I don't think Iceland will win the Contest, but the country has one of the stronger entries in the field so far. Here's hoping they make the right choices between now and May to improve their chances and keep their qualifying streak unbroken.

First Listen: Denmark sends "The Way You Are" to Eurovision Tue, 10 Feb 2015 11:00:00 -0600 b677aafa-096f-42fe-a408-2dc4e76da0c9