On the 18th of May, Israel will hit televisions across Europe for something – hopefully – other than the interesting way in which it carries out its business as an ever-expanding state. The Eurovision Song Contest will grace the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv, moving from the International Convention Centre (host of the ‘79 and ‘99 events) in Jerusalem to the glitzy, 9,000 capacity Expo. Forty-one countries will go toe to toe to see who will be the successor to Netta Barzilai and her runaway hit ‘Toy’, whose mix of fickle Japanese cultural appropriation, hooks and chicken noises won her the crown in Portugal ahead of Austria and Cyprus.
The hosting of the contest in such a controversial country will no doubt bring its own raft of issues come May. It has already provoked quite a debate in Israel and among the wider Eurovision fan contingent. It seems that no one really wants this contest to take place in Israel. Many on the Western side of the fence have called upon countries to boycott Eurovision due to Israel’s transgressions in Palestine, or Israel’s laissez-faire approach to the enforcement of LGBT rights.
Madonna, who is scheduled to perform during the final, has also been lobbied to cancel her appearance at the event. A movement, simply called Boycott Eurovision, has also sprung up, concerned with the issues above as well as the idea that Israel will use the event as a propaganda tool, with petitions to boycott springing up from Icelandic media to our own The Guardian. One has to ask where these people were when Azerbaijan, dictated by a ruling family, hosted the contest in 2012.
On the other side of the ideological divide, the Ultra-Orthodox – renowned for its strength in numbers in the state and a significant political lobby – have called on vital parts of the contest (particularly the Friday and Saturday rehearsal and jury performances) to be cancelled as they would violate the Sabbath, observed from Friday sunset until Saturday evening.
The event itself won’t kick off until 2200 GMT, which won’t contravene the Sabbath. But, it will mean that the contest will go on until the back of two in the morning local time. Let’s never say that Eurovision fans and acts aren’t committed. Furthermore, this is likely to be the most expensive Eurovision to attend in history. Prices on Viagogo for seated tickets at the time of writing are going for anywhere between £390 and £740. Which is ridiculous, or as the natives might say, m’guchakh.
It is worth noting that we will be without several Eurovision stalwarts this year despite the forty-one strong roster, including Turkey, still keeping up their temper tantrum in the wake of the bearded lady Conchita Wurst’s victory in 2014, and Ukraine, who withdrew after national selection winner Maruv’s contract was leaked. The contract stopped her performing in Russia or speaking to any journalist without permission, and made her pay her own way to Tel Aviv.
I digress. Let us “leave politics to the politicians”, as one of the hosts of the contest said in a rebuke of the boycott calls in early March and talk about the entries that are competing this year. As usual, the Big Five – those who finance the contest the most – get automatic qualification. That’s Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom. Israel also get final privileges, since, well, they are hosting the damn thing (to the tune of almost thirty million Euros). The rest will fight it out in two semi-finals, with ten qualifying from each final.
A brief aside before we get to the music; first we’ll talk about the Big Five and their chances, before moving on to Semi-Final One and then Semi-Final Two. Each act will be scored out of ten, followed by a qualification prediction and if relevant, a prediction as to its final placing. Finally, I will predict the winner. Bear in mind I’ve nailed the past three years in a row and have been a fan for over a decade, so I’m not (entirely) full of it. So, without further ado…
THE BIG FIVE
France: Bilal Hassani – Roi
Bilal Hassani is a triumph for gender identity in the competition and follows in the footsteps of personal idol Conchita Wurst. Muslim and gay, Hassani received a torrent of homophobic abuse after winning the French selection show; the fact that he’s even going to Tel Aviv at all is a giant finger in itself. One imagines the security team will be busy trying to avoid a repeat of the stage invasion (or anything worse) that befell British entry SuRie last year.
The song itself positions itself along these lines, articulating the lack of choice in sexuality and the importance of self-identification. I’m not mad about the music, but the statement that the performance in itself will make will surely push it up the leaderboard regardless of the fairly plain nature of the song. Given the absolute disasters that the French have endured in recent memory (two top ten finishes in fifteen years), this will surely perform better, as much as artist safety will indeed be an issue.
Will it qualify? It has. How will it do? I’m going top ten, top five on the outside. Call it 8th.
Italy: Mahmood – Soldi
Previously eliminated from Italian X Factor, Mahmood has spent much of his time recently writing songs for another Italian Eurovision entrant, Marco Mengoni. He beat off 24 other acts in Italy’s selection show and gained a whopping 63% of the jury vote in the final three. It’s clear that the critics love this, and it’s not overly difficult to see why.
The song has an understated swagger to it, a Drakeish piano riff that is simple yet effective, and is instantly catchy on first listen. It’s also got a touch of Eastern flavour, with a touch of Arabic tucked in for good measure owing to his father’s Egyptian heritage. Mahmood has a good voice and I can see this winning the jury vote with some ease.
Will it qualify? Automatic. How will it do? I think the jury votes will swing it into the top five. I don’t think it will win but who knows whether or not the smart money will back it closer to the final.
Germany: Sisters – Sister
So the duo are called Sisters. The song is called Sister. But they aren’t actually related. What the royal fuck, Germany?
After the success of You Let Me Walk Alone last year, which came fourth, Germany have gone for a similarly understated pian-them this year. After years of abject misery – including a deserved nul points a couple of years ago – perhaps Germany are sticking with what appears to have worked. In brief, this hasn’t.
The song is a maudlin wail, boring to the point of comatose excuse of an entry; it harnesses stupid, unnecessary music box samples and features harmonization that pales in comparison to other acts of previous years. To think this won a national selection to get here. To think this won an international jury vote.
Will it qualify? The fact it has makes me sad. How will it do? Without a hint of irony, I think it will come stone dead last.
Spain: Miki – La Venda
Now this, THIS, is how you do Eurovision. An entry in the national language. And what an entry. Above all else, La Venda is unbridled, unlimited fun. I’m a sucker for a brand with a brass section and the brass section here represents a call to arms. The song itself is Black Death levels of catchy and guaranteed to make you sing along in the same way you mumbled gargled semi-Spanish to Despacito a few years ago.
This allows me to put faith back into the Spanish public after they failed us abjectly by sending some awful acts in recent years. Watch the video, look how much fun everyone is having! Just look at it! If you cannot see any joy in this at all, you have no soul.
Will it qualify? I don’t know how Spain can afford to buy its way into the final, but it has. How will it do? Top ten at minimum. Pushing top five, but too good to win.
United Kingdom: Michael Rice – Bigger Than Us
Fans of talent shows might remember Michael Rice from The X Factor, and as the winner of the first series of All Together Now on the BBC. He came through a national selection of sorts to triumph in reaching Tel Aviv. Given the massively courageous yet ultimately failed efforts of SuRie last year, efforts have been made to give Ricer the best chance of scoring at least some points. Truth be told, when I heard the six entries shortlisted for the final, my heart absolutely sank. There was no variety at all, and I held out no hope for the winner. I have had to eat my words partially after viewing the winner in live performance.
For once, I don’t actually mind the song. It is incredibly talent show, but given the nature of the competition we’re entering, that’s not in itself a bad thing. Rice’s voice is nothing short of stunning; the boy has an absolute set of pipes on him and the key change late on really emphasises the point.
Ultimately, the staging will make or break this song; the key change is absolutely SCREAMING for a massive shower of pyro at the end and I hope the backing singers don’t dwarf the performance as has been the case in recent years (I’m looking at you, Electro Velvet).
Will it qualify? God bless the licence fee. How will it do? I couldn’t tell you. I’d like to think bottom of the left hand side of the scoreboard, so I’ll call it 12th.
Israel: Kobi Marimi – Home
Hosting Eurovision is really expensive. It’s fair to say that Israel actively went after the competition in fielding a confident character like Netta. But after spending through the nose for a competition that will hardly endear the Conservative Right to the state and its broadcaster, it is clear that Israel want no part in hosting the 2020 competition.
Kobi Marimi is another product of singing reality show HaKokhav HaBa, the same show that produced Israel entry Nadav Guedj a couple of years ago. His voice and the song are really rather strange if I’m honest, a popera warble in front of a Westlife backing track. Absolutely nothing special here: I predict a near bottom finish for Marimi.
Will it qualify? Only through hosting. How will it do? Bottom five.
With the Big Five and the hosts adequately spoken for, it’s now time to turn our attention to Semi Final One. I will be evaluating tracks in the order that they will appear in their respective semi-finals, as that will almost certainly have some bearing on the public vote.
SEMI FINAL ONE
Cyprus: Tamta – Replay
Last year, Cyprus were pipped to the post by Netta with an act called Eleni Foureira. Her song, Fuego, was a blue-blooded dance banger. I think she may be suing for copyright infringement in the wake of Tamta being chosen for the small Mediterranean island this time around.
Tamta’s road to Eurovision is a bit of a fairytale story. Married at fifteen and a mother soon after, she simultaneously raised a daughter whilst completing high school and attending university in Tbilisi (she is Georgian by birth). She worked as a housekeeper before finding fame on the Greek version of Pop Idol, so props for getting this far.
The song itself is nothing special. It is quite honestly a poor carbon copy of Fuego. Nevertheless, it is very conventional pop song and will do well with traditionally flamboyant Cypriot staging. How well is a question for the jury: I could easily see them marking it down due to similarities between Replay and Fuego.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Mid-table, but could go either way.
Montenegro: D-mol – Heaven
Now, every year a song tends to come around in the competition that is slated by the Eurovision fandom, kicked from pillar to post for being outdated. I tend to really love these entries. This year is no exception.
D-mol are a Montenegrin vocal group (of sorts) who got to the final by dressing up as musical notes and standing in front of some musical notation. I shit you not. The song is Heaven. Now, if this were 1992, I’d have them slated to win. As you may have noticed, it isn’t. It’s a weird mish-mash of ethnic sounding strings, nineties backing track and harmonies that don’t quite seem to harmonise, sung in heavily accented English. I adore it, but the chances of it even qualifying are almost zero.
Will it qualify? Unless the juries take leave of their senses, probably not. How will it do? I’d be surprised if this didn’t finish in the bottom three of the semi final.
Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – Look Away
Yes, Darude as in Sandstorm. The Finnish have resurrected a ghost from dance floors past by recruiting the services of Darude, best known for the aforementioned meme-fuelling anthem. Ol’ Daddy Rude, now 43, has worked in collaboration with a man. He might as well be a bit of rag on a stick for all the difference it makes.
The result? Abject disappointment. This song has literally no defining characteristics and fits into Eurovision in the same way that I fit into Topman clothing (I don’t). It’s repetitive, dull and doesn’t even have any melody to hum along to. Name alone will not carry this entry through, Darude; this piece of work is more shitstorm than sandstorm.
Will it qualify? I think so, but not on merit. How will it do? Bottom ten.
Poland: Tulia – Fire Of Love (Pali Się)
Poland have once again gone down the ethnic route with this year’s offering. You might remember the milk-churning maids in national dress from a few years ago with Donatan and Cleo. Tulia are a girl-band that sing in a style called Bialy Glos, or white voice, a traditional vocal style that comes from rural Poland and harkens winter mornings in the forest.
Can’t say I’m massively keen, if I’m honest with you. I like the fact it’s something different and something that harnesses a bit of tradition. It’s a little bit rough on the ears for my taste; no doubt I’m too used to the squeaky clean decadence of overproduced Eurovision fare.
Nevertheless, I think this will do well standing out against such meagre competition in the Finnish entry prior. It’s also worth checking out their cover of Nothing Else Matters by Metallica, a song that translates surprisingly well into folk singing.
Will it qualify? Yes How will it do? I’m quietly optimistic. Top ten.
Czech Republic: Lake Malawi – Friend of a Friend
The Czech Republic put a couple of awful performances in the past behind them last year, when their backpacked, glasses-wearing representative Miklas Josef came sixth with the insidiously catchy Lie To Me. The Czechs seem to have found their rhythm now in terms of sending suitable earworms to the competition. This has manifested in the choice of Czech indie band Lake Malawi.
Friend of a Friend is a really rather catchy number, complete with swaying synths and a cute keyboard hook that could see it become one of the dark horses of this year’s contest. The lead singer has a weird faux-Cockney thing going on, but we’ll let that go.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? I’m putting it around eighth in the final. Might even break top five with luck.
Hungary: Joci Papai – Az én apám
A contest veteran of Romani descent, Joci did pretty well last time around, coming in eighth place with the song Origo whilst flying the flag for his native Hungarian language. The Hungarians seem to like this one too, putting it through the Hungarian selection process and sending it to number two in the Hungarian charts. I’ve always got respect for countries that enter songs penned in native tongue.
The song is a charming number about his father, who Papai credits as a major influence as a musician. A toe-tapping acoustic hum-along complete with whistled hook, this falls into the Lake Malawi category of “understated with the potential to do very well indeed”.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? I think it’ll probably flop in the final among the bigger anthems out there. 15th-20th.
Belarus: ZENA – Like It
I am of the opinion that Belarus have been quietly gunning for Eurovision for years, no doubt hoping to use it in the same way that Azerbaijan did to clean up its image on the world stage. Often referred to as the “Last Dictatorship in Europe”, the country is keen for strong finishes in the competition, having never finished higher than sixth in 2007. Which brings us to this year’s entrant, ZENA (warrior princess).
Graham Norton will no doubt be happy that ZENA has chosen ZENA as her stage name instead of her birth name, Zinaida Kupriyanovich. She’s done a fair amount of stuff, including being involved on the Russian dub of Moana despite only being sixteen. Props to her for even entering at such a tender age, but she’s been saddled with a stereotypical song that awkwardly straddles the divide between pop and dance. It doesn’t have many defining factors and I think that will be its downfall.
Will it qualify? No. How will it do? Not that it’s really relevant, but I expect this to come eleventh or twelfth in qualifying.
Serbia: Nevena Božović – Kruna
As far as veterans go, Nevena is fairly well versed in the Eurovision experience. She was the first artist ever to compete as as the main artist in both junior and adult Eurovision. She failed to reach the final in 2013 as part of Moje 3, a sort of Serbian Sugababes, and I can’t say I hold out much hope for her here.
The song is a traditional mix of more ethnic strings, an acoustic melody and a touch of rock backing, connoting a kind of Serbian Evanescence vibe. I can’t say I really see what is going to set this apart from other acts; if they’d played more into giving it a big rock climax, maybe it would be more distinctive. As it is, it appears fairly average.
Will it qualify? No luck second time around, Nevena. How will it do? Another eleventh or twelfth in qualifying I reckon.
Belgium: Eliot – Wake Up
Another product of the native talent show machine (this time The Voice Belgique), Eliot’s song has been written for him by the guy who wrote the song that helped Belgium to a 4th place finish in 2017, Pierre Dumoulin.
Eliot is a bright young thing (depressingly young at only eighteen) whose song is equally bright and forward thinking, replete with spacey synths and a catchy wee chorus. Belgium have a habit of fielding really strong staging in bringing out quite nuanced and considered songs, so I see this having no problem in qualifying.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? I’m going Top Five.
Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – Keep On Going
Weird one this. Title is in English but the song is all in Georgian. Oto won the right of Georgian entrant this year by winning Georgian pop idol, which is a novel way of doing it; can’t imagine Simon Cowell or Danny from The Script (if he’s even still on The Voice) agreeing to a similar arrangement somehow.
The song is downright bizarre. It’s a weird mix of computer drum beat, massively over prominent popera backing vocals and dramatic classical strings. Fair play to Georgia for entering something in Georgian and something this (comparatively) left field but I can’t see it qualifying. Partly because at this point, Eurovision takes leave of planet Earth.
Will it qualify? It shoots itself in the foot with its quirkiness, so no. How will it do? I envision this falling by the wayside entirely, given what follows it
Australia: Katie Miller-Heidke – Zero Gravity
The Australians have straight up lost their marbles this year. I don’t know what the bloody hell happened down under but they’ve decided to enter a song that literally cannot be defined by genres. What would happen if Sarah Brightman fell into the matrix via a hardcore rave? Now we know.
Can’t fault the voice on Miller-Heidke; she’s fairly well established in opera and theatre in Australia as I understand it and the vocal performance reflects that. We get all that, but then we get some form of a drop, complete with thudding sub laced with harp and further opera vocals. The hook is memorable by any year’s standards. I have a horrible feeling it might win.
Will it qualify? It will win its qualifier. How will it do? I think they’ve cracked it. Top three and definitely in with a shout of winning.
Iceland: Hatari – Hatrid mun sigra
If drugs are your thing, I’d take them a couple of songs before Australia. Purely because when you get to Iceland, the world will become a truly bizarre place.
What to say about Iceland? Just listen to the damn song and watch the national final performance (oh yeah, this shit was voted in by the Icelandic general public). It’s techno and punk and people in leather gimp suits and shouting in Icelandic over throbbing bass. This is what Eurovision is all about. One of them is the son of the Icelandic ambassador to Britain.
Will it qualify? Oh yes, yes it will. How will it do? I’m going top ten again, bonkers as that sounds.
Estonia: Victor Crone – Storm
You’ve got to feel really sorry for poor Victor from Estonia. Not only has he been saddled with what sounds like a cover of a rubbish Avicii ripoff, he’s also been placed by the directors (who choose the running order) in what I refer to as the Unholy Trinity of Utterly Batshit Musical Endeavours. That being Australia, Iceland and Portugal; don’t you worry, we’ll get to that.
He’s already tried and failed to get into Eurovision once, as part of a Swedish entry (don’t ask me how that works) and the song he’s got this year sounds like one that would be rejected at Melodifestivalen as well.
Will it qualify? Enjoy passing Iceland on your way to the stage, Victor. Try not to get eaten. How will it do? 0.
Portugal: Conan Osiris – Telemoveis
The last triangular point of this unhinged isosceles, Conan Osiris of Portugal. This guy is peak alternative – he holds a degree in graphic design and works at one of Portugal’s largest sex shops. The song is also peak alternative: a weird mush of worldbeat, lofi pop and a catchy, simplistic drum line, coupled with lyrics about breaking your mobile phone and living a less technological existence. I expect it to do really well among the juries, the staging will sell it to the audience.
Will it qualify? Without a doubt. How will it do? Top ten.
Greece: Katerine Duska – Better Love
Greece has had a chequered recent history at the competition, with last year’s entry and the 2016 entry falling to qualify for the final entirely. Their last decent finish was Koza Mostra with the infernally catchy hit Alcohol Is Free. I can’t say I see any other eventuality than another NQ for Greece this year. The song has no distinguishing factors: it’s lazy, boring pop music sung by an average voice. Its placing after the wacky trio above will also give it serious trouble winning votes.
Will it qualify? Nope. How will it do? Forgotten in a sea of weird.
San Marino: Serhat – Say Na Na Na
Ah, San Marino. The tiny principality is qualified once in total for the competition in nine previous attempts. It also has a worrying history of sending the same competitor over and over again – sure enough, this will be Serhat’s second bite at the cherry, a Turk who has failed once before to get to the final. A mustachioed fifty-something singer, the sex appeal is certainly limited in this case. The song is not much better, a poor attempt at disco with a repetitive hook that doesn’t really make sense. Poor Serhat.
Will it qualify? Back to the drawing board, please. How will it do? In with a shot of outright losing the semi-final.
That’s the complete list of competitors for Semi-Final one. My list to progress is as follows; Poland, Portugal, Iceland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Australia, Hungary, Cyprus, Finland and at a push, Serbia. I expect Portugal, Belgium or Australia to romp to victory here.
Tune in again on the 16th for our rundown of semi-final two, and our predictions for the Eurovision final!