As we hurtle towards the mid-March submission deadline, we have one Super Saturday of national finals left – featuring northern luminaries Iceland, Sweden, Lithuania and Norway.
Each is its own conundrum: Iceland’s event seems more open than anticipated after hot favourite Svala was a visual let-down in her heat and some of her rivals stepped up appealingly; Norway’s contest is hard to call, with no standout song nor live performances to gage; Lithuania is its usual labyrinthine affair; while it’s hard to separate the most favoured spawn of Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – the Daddy of all national finals.
In the meantime, this year’s selections came alive in the last week by providing a wide variety of songs, including this year’s market steamer from Belgium.
Croatia goes into the so-bad-it’s-going-to-be-amazing category. Jacques Houdek uses two wildly different voices side-by-side in ‘My Friend‘, for a Disney-meets-Pavarotti mashup heavy on the cheese. Let’s hope producers give him the pimp slot in the second semi-final so he can Cezar his way into the final. Saturday night needs him – and his friend.
I’m finding it hard to summon as much enthusiasm for the Dutch entry, OG3NE’s ‘Lights and Shadows‘. I like Wilson Phillips as much as the next child-of-the-80s, but single-sex groups performing vocal harmonies haven’t been relevant this millennium. The Spice Girls moved the world onto big pop hooks, and even Eurovision recognised it long ago – compare Russia’s Serebro with Germany’s No Angels. On a related note, this kind of thing tends to be more interesting on radio than TV.
Cyprus’s ‘Gravity‘ at least tries to be up-to-date, with a beat similar to Rag n Bone Man’s ‘Human’. It’ll be up to Hovig and the staging to make sure there’s more than just modern production to this entry, and I’ll be waiting on rehearsals for that.
Last weekend brought some pleasing results. Laura and Koit Toome convincingly won Eesti Laul with ‘Verona‘. Sven Lohmus is the Estonian Captain Hook of songwriting, and I enjoy this as much as his most recent efforts in 2009 and 2011. How well it does in Kiev may depend on Laura improving her opening solo, and toning down the telenovela visuals. We should also bear in mind that despite being as well-preserved as the song, a combined 31 years have passed since the duo’s previous separate appearances on the Eurovision stage.
Sunday provided us with two market springers, from Romania and Portugal. Romania’s Ilinca ft Alex Florea combines yodel and rap. While I love Eurovision’s ability to go musically where others fear to tread, ‘Yodel It‘ feels like proof why it hasn’t been done before. That won’t stop the song getting a big phone vote, of course. However, mixing the two genres together screams “jury nemesis”.
Portugal’s Salvador Sobral takes us back in time for the charming ballad ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘. There are lots of USPs here, not least Salvador’s tics and humble appearance. I can see this having an audience among certain jurors and televoters. Just how high it goes will depend on how niche those fans prove; I don’t think it’s as universal in its appeal as the Italian favourite.
I reckon Greece had a better option in ‘When The Morning Comes Around’, but instead relies on ‘This Is Love‘. The song builds very promisingly until the EDM refrain lets it down. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that staging svengali Fokas Evangelinos got ‘This Is Our Night’ and ‘Shine’ to unmerited seventh places. Between him and household name Demy, something similar may happen in Kiev.
Australia’s attempt at a third top five relies on their recent X Factor winner Isaiah with ‘Don’t Come Easy‘. The song follows the Sam Smith template in a way that should see it score respectably on the final scoreboard, even if I personally find it rather dull. The Czechs take dullness to greater heights with Martina Barta’s ‘My Turn‘, which will likely struggle to get out of the more competitive first semi-final.
The most recent reveal – Belgium’s Blanche with ‘City Lights‘ – had a massive impact on the outright market, moving rapidly from triple-digit odds to second favourite. The synthpop composition is moody, current and well produced. It went on repeat like few others this season. My worry is that ‘City Lights’ overly repeats the initial melodic line, and is too subtle in developing – it might be better to listen to than watch. Live performances will tell us more, and I wouldn’t be interested in single-figure prices until then. It’s definitely an intriguing addition to the line-up, though.
Do let us know your thoughts below, as the last pieces of the jigsaw come to light.