Eurovision 2016: The Rundown – Semi Final One

Eurovision 2016

All the entrants have now been selected for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016, to be held in Stockholm after the triumph of Mans Zelmerlow and his band of children made of electronics – seriously, watch the live performance if you haven’t already – in Vienna last year. A huge 43 European nations (and Australia) will perform and the contest is expected to draw a huge audience when the finals are held at the Ericsson Globe.

Before the rundown commences, it should perhaps be noted that the entries for this year are, in my opinion, nowhere near the standard of last year’s entries. The contest has undergone a course of Americanisation since its inception, and with the increasingly saccharine coverage of websites like WiwiBloggs, the contest and its entrants have become subject to less and less real criticism. This has given somewhat of a carte blanche to songwriters and national delegations, leading to forty-three songs that are by and large very similar to one another. I hope that next year provides a larger amount of variety, but it’ll take a major cultural shift in pop music to facilitate that change. I don’t see it happening.

In this review, each entry will be uniformly subject to two criteria: a score out of ten, purely based on the author’s opinion of the song and a prediction as to whether or not it will qualify. The entries will be presented in the order that they will perform in their respective semi-finals. From each semi-final, ten artists will qualify to join hosts Sweden and the Big Five (France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain) in the final. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

1. Finland // Sandhja – Sing It Away
If you like Jess Glynne’s brand of nouveau-disco pop music, you’ll absolutely love this song from Finland. They’ve had a mixed history in the competition, winning in 2006 but failing to qualify on numerous occasions since then. Nevertheless, this entry is supremely catchy, and a welcome break from the melodramatic ballads that have infected this year’s competition. The problem is positioning: number one never tends to fare well for competitors.Just ask Eduard Romanyuta from Moldova who had this slot last year and narrowly missed out.

Rating: 8/10
Will it qualify? Sadly not, but it’s a catchy song regardless.

2. Greece // Argo – Utopian Land
Bless Greece. Every year their financial system remains somewhat broken, and yet they continue to enter Eurovision. Praise must also be heaped on them for staying fairly true to their language in recent entries; Greek is a truly beautiful language when sung well and credit to them for not bowing so easily to the no-brand pop of Eurovision in the modern era. Sadly, this song is a rap song, and rap songs at Eurovision fail. Even when dressed up in ethnic drums and strings with a broken hook, the fact that it is a rap song in Greek will do for it.

Rating: 5/10
Will it qualify? Not a hope in hell.

3. Moldova // Lidia Isac – Falling Stars
Moldova is a country that has had a couple of absolute Eurovision bangers, filled with charm and culture. This is not one of those. The song is intolerably dull, but the combination of a powerful (albeit consistently flat in her performance) female vocalist and an unchanging synth line might do enough to see it through with good staging. It did enough for Helen Paparizou in 2005 for Greece, after all.

Rating: 2/10
Will it qualify? An outside shot. Provisionally, no.

4. Hungary // Freddie – Pioneer
Many people will be asking whether there is any difference between young Freddie and last year’s winner, Mans Zelmerlow. In short, apart from their nationalities, the answer to that question is largely “no”. A moderately attractive brunette man singing an uplifting song in front of a tech heavy background; it appears that Hungary have come to the conclusion “well, it worked last year, it may as well this year”. Let us hope for the sake of variance that it does not.

Rating: 2/10
Will it qualify? I’m going to say yes, through gritted teeth.

5. Croatia // Nina Kraljić – Lighthouse
As far as I can tell from this girl’s song, she’s on a ship and it’s sinking. Never has a song’s content been so indicative of its future performance. Unless she does the whole thing whilst floating on a platform, with real lightning striking her as she sings, expect this song from a returning Croatia to flounder to semi-final defeat: the song is not good enough to carry itself. Other countries do generic far better, and the video for this almost brought on some kind of epileptic fit.

Rating: 0/10
Will it qualify? I’m insulted you even asked.

6. Netherlands // Douwe Bob – Slow Down
It speaks volumes about the lack of variety this year that a man with a guitar is a pleasant surprise. Sure, the lyrics aren’t the greatest in the world, and in terms of men with guitars at Eurovision, he doesn’t even come close to being the best. But in such mediocre company, the fact that Mr Douwe Egberts and his band of Dutch hipsters have a catchy song without synths is a surprise akin to a refreshing sorbet among an ever-expanding triple of horrible music. The Netherlands have learnt their lessons from Eurovision failure and one hopes this does as well as The Common Linnets did a few years ago.

Rating: 7/10
Will it qualify? Yep and yep.

7. Armenia // Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave
Back into the pop trifle we go, lads and ladies. Regretfully, this is almost as unremarkable as Lighthouse. However, the fact they’ve taken it down a notch in terms of speed,and added some distinctive violins will probably see this one through. Far from me to judge the looks of an artist: however, let’s just say that it won’t hurt Armenia’s chances that Mukuchyan is inordinately attractive. Expect this one to qualify, but I don’t see this one doing well in the final.

Rating: 5/10
Will it qualify? Yes.

8. San Marino // Serhat – I Didn’t Know
Sigh. San Marino are just never going to get it. It doesn’t matter whether who you put on this stage – in this case, a man dressed like a Bond villain in his early fifties – if the song is crap, it will fail. Let’s be clear here: this song is overtly and laughably crap. The lyrics don’t make any sense: “I didn’t know that I’m falling for you” is a horrifically awkward clash of the past and present tense. The disco beat is miserably awful. But the worst thing BY FAR is Serhat himself. He’s creepy, sounds utterly self-obsessed and his voice is about as vibrant as a wet pancake falling on a lino floor. There is also the small fact that he is Turkish. I’ll just leave that hanging there.

How low do numbers go?
Will it qualify? After it comes last, expect the Sammarinese to deport Serhat back to Istanbul in a crate.

9. Russia // Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One
From the bottom of the barrel right to the top of the tree, it would seem. You could more or less bet your life savings that Russia will qualify for every final from now until the end of the world. However, the Russian’s presence in the final is even more assured with Sergey. He’s an astoundingly good looking bloke, the visual effects if his music video is anything to go by is astounding and the mix of club dance and crescendoing violins makes him the bookies favourite to take the crown in Stockholm. Credit to the Russians, they must have some stickability if they can win a Eurovision (half voted for by the people of Europe) whilst propping up a civil conflict in Ukraine and hiding money in offshore bank accounts. Call me Sergey, the deflector of European furore.

Rating: 8/10
Will it Qualify? Dead cert.

10. Czech Republic // Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand
In the four previous years that the Czech Republic have competed at Eurovision, they have never made the final. One one occasion their entry received the dreaded nul points in the semi, and on their debut they scored a solitary point in the semi-final. Let’s just say the form isn’t great for this act. However, I’m delighted to note that the entry isn’t that bad at all. The female vocal lead is incredibly strong, the ballad itself despite being generic is fairly classy and with good staging, it’s a distinct possibility that the Czech entry might sneak into its first final. Performing after Russia isn’t great, but the song is strong enough to qualify.

Rating: 6.5/10
Will it qualify? Just.

11. Cyprus // Minus One – Alter Ego
Is that a band I see before me? Like, an actual rock band? As improbable as it seems, it is indeed. A good one at that: this song is one of the stand out entries in this competition. It has a strong enough bass riff and a heavy enough guitar solo to please the rock and metal fans among us, but also possesses a funky little synth line and well-delivered clean vocals. It isn’t going to please everyone, and there is a possibility that it might fall flat live, but this is a great song and I desperately hope it qualifies. The fact, however, is this: it won’t. It’s a hard truth to swallow, especially as a big rock and metal fan, but I learnt this lesson a long time ago: Eurovision fans are boring. Ever since Lordi won in 2006, they have constantly rejected, with a few exceptions, interesting and different musical acts: Who See’s dubstep, Max Jason Mai’s soaring emo-metal, Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko anthemic rock madness.As much I like Minus One, get used to the idea that they won’t qualify.

Rating: 9/10
Will it qualify: No. Fuck you, Eurovision fandom.

12. Austria // Zoë – Loin d’ici
Austria have gone all Emmelie De Forest on us this year and provided Eurovision with a redhead who is singing about a country far away, or at least as far as I can tell. The song itself is kind of sweet and dreamy in its own little way. The quaint and French nature of this entry will see it prove popular: combine that with the potential for some eye-catching staging and you’ve got yourself a qualifier.

Rating: 6.5/10
Will it qualify: Yes.

13. Estonia // Jüri Pootsmann – Play
As much as one can appreciate Estonia’s effort to provide Eurovision with a classy ballad this year, usually I wouldn’t have been able to see this qualifying without a struggle. Once again, however, in the context of such variety bereft competition, it would be unsurprising to watch it qualify this year with a strong points finish. With a nice dose of subtle staging, it could do well. The only way I can describe Juri, having listened to play is “Sam Smith if he dropped a few octaves”. Considering how popular Sam Smith is among some people, that’s as close as a compliment as you’re going to force from me.

Rating: 6/10
Will it qualify? As the dark horse, yes.

14. Azerbaijan // Samra – Miracle
In the past couple of years, everyone’s favourite oil-based authoritarian regime has been flopping in the contest. Until 2014, it had all been roses, with the country not finishing below 8th place in a Eurovision final, winning the contest in 2011. However, 2014 and 2015 have seen them finish 22nd and 12th respectively. If we’re honest, Samra’s ditty is strong and it will qualify: the vocal is strong and fairly rich, there is no doubt about it. Whether or not it will perform well in the final is yet to be seen, but the consensus is that it will reach the final at a canter. Without or without the help of the benevolent President Ilham Aliyev.

Rating: 7/10
Will it qualify? Yes.

15. Montenegro // Highway – The Real Thing
Award for this year’s second worst band name goes to this lot. Highway sounds like the name of an alt-rock group from rural Arkansas; it is only beaten by a band whose name casts aspersions to some less than politically correct sexual themes (stay tuned for that, folks). Nevertheless, I’m delighted to say that the riff behind this song absolutely slays and the dubstep throwback within is a lovely breath of fresh air. However, somewhere, a producer in Podgorica needs to have a word because the whole thing sounds horrific in the mix. It’s as if they’ve mastered the thing on one of those Pringles speaker tubes, and this combined with the avant-garde musical cocktail will be enough to send Highway back down the road they came from.

Rating: 4/10
Will it qualify? Nope, but if you fancy a 5/1 punt, be my guest. Even Serhat is 10/3.

16. Iceland // Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling
Chances are, you won’t have heard of Greta Salóme before. But she’s well known in the Eurovision community for performing at the contest before, with Jonsi. She’s back this time with a much better song this time round. The shadow puppetry gimmick she uses in her live performances for this song will make for some cracking staging, and the dance beat behind it will make sure that it qualifies fairly easily. What really perturbs me about this song is the hook: who is calling for Greta? Is she secretly a Jekyll and Hyde? Will she turn around and reveal a really evil Greta strapped to her back? So many questions.

Rating: 7/10
Will it qualify? Yes.

17. Bosnia and Herzegovina // Dalal & Deen feat. Ana Rucner and Jala – Ljubav Je
A bald man in a white suit. A woman in a black curtain. A woman with a hollow cello. An angry man with a beard rapping. All in Bosnian, whilst being performed in some kind of classically designed building. Are you following all this? Me neither. Credit has to go to the country for selecting a song in the native tongue, even if it is perhaps the least advisable song format in Eurovision history. The song itself isn’t bad either, but what have I already said about songs with a significant degree of difference to them? Fill in the blanks, ladies and gentlemen. If you want rap done classically, listen to Jimek’s orchestration of classic hip-hop instrumentals with the Polish national orchestra.

Rating: 4/10
Will it qualify? No.

18. Malta // Ira Losco – Walk On Water
I think it’s fitting that the last song in the first semi final utterly epitomises the average nature of this entire parade. It’s very middle of the road and sounds quite similar to Emeli Sande’s “Heaven”. Listen to both and see what you think. Nevertheless, one can’t deny that the sampling, the drums and the backing vocals all compliment the final female lead in this first semi. As a result, and with deep regret, I’m predicting its qualification over better songs. Such is the way of the world.

Rating: 5/10
Will it qualify: With regret, yes.

So that’s that for the first semi-final. To recap, these are the countries I think will make it through: Hungary, The Netherlands, Armenia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Estonia, Azerbaijan, Iceland and Malta, with Russia to win the semi-final.

Phew, that’s it for round one. I’ll get myself a double scotch chased with overproof rum to forget Serhat before seeing you on the other side.

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