Owing to the fact that we have an uneven number of participants, Semi-Final Two will have one more entry in it than the first semi. This one is definitely the more difficult to call and whilst it contains a lot of big beasts that tend to ease through this stage of the process, there are also a number of entries that could go either way.
If my predictions go tits up anywhere (as opposed to everywhere, which is a distinct possibility), this night is probably where that’ll happen. As with the first semi-final, you will be able to catch this programme live on BBC Four in the United Kingdom, taking over from the now defunct BBC Three.
This is the semi-final that you can vote in, if you’re interested in the televoting aspect of preceding (presuming of course you’re British and reading this, if not then check your local listings). This’ll be the tighter one to call in my opinion. I’d like to brag that I have an eighty percent success rate at calling qualifying semi-finalists and that I know what I’m on about, but good runs of form don’t last forever, as any gambler will tell you – if I screw up majorly in any semi-final, this will be it.
Armenia: Srbuk – Walking Out
Srbuk kicks off this event as another member of the ‘National X Factor participant turned Eurovision entrant club’. This song utilises the Qanun: it’s a stringed instrument, but beyond that I couldn’t really tell you how it works. Srbuk learnt to play this instrument at a Conservatory in Yerevan, so she’s fairly classically educated.
I have to say, she has an absolutely cracking voice, which really runs riot during the mid-song key change. The song itself is catchy enough, a swaggering jaunt through easterly-influenced yet contemporary pop music. The guy who wrote this also wrote another of Armenia’s most successful entries, Not Alone by Aram Mp3, which came fourth a few years ago. I don’t anticipate this to do as well, but I still really like it.
Will it qualify? I really hope so. How will it do? Capacity for top ten but left side of the scoreboard.
Ireland: Sarah McTernan – 22
RTE will no doubt be happy to remind the ill-informed that Ireland is Eurovision’s most successful competing country, with seven wins under their belt. The aged among you will remember Eimear Quinn winning the competition way back in 1996. Ireland’s record of late though has been nothing short of abysmal, although this wasn’t entirely of their own doing: their last decent result was Jedward at Düsseldorf 2011, where the twins managed to pull a top ten finish out the bag.
I can’t say I see a buck in the recent history of Ireland’s woeful competition record changing here. 22 is a classic heartbreak number but never really gets out the starter block; it is a pedestrian acoustic meander and doesn’t have that ‘big song’ feel you need to do well oftentimes.
Will it qualify? No. How will it do? Bottom five of semi-final.
Moldova: Anna Odobescu – Stay
Poor old Anna has a hell of a lot to live up to this year after the last two Moldovan entries. In 2017, Sunstroke Project (or as you know them, the Epic Sax Guy and friends) finished third, and the year after, a group called DoReDoS finished tenth with the ear worm My Lucky Day. Not bad for a country the size of Maryland.
This year, I do not predict more success for the small Eastern European nation. Stay is a fairly nondescript ballad, a weird mix of strings and tinny synth. The vocals are nothing to be ashamed of, but with Armenia before them and some stronger ballads after, I think it will struggle.
WIll it qualify? No. How will it do? Narrowly missing out on qualification.
Switzerland: Luca Hanni – She Got Me
Despite being born in Bern, Luca rose to prominence by winning the ninth season of a German talent show, Deutschland sucht den Superstar. He is also a model and only a year older than me, which makes me realise, as all the younger entrants do, that my life has thus far been a pathetic waste of time.
Oh right, the song. Well, it’s a fairly catchy club banger with a decent melody. It sounds and looks good (the song as well as the performer) for a decent final finish. The lyrics themselves are self-explanatory: woman walks into club, Hanni impressed by said woman, woman’s beauty convinces Hanni to start ‘dirty dancing’. It doesn’t try to be revolutionary but it doesn’t have to be, as a blue-blooded pop dance song coming after two unremarkable entries.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Going for a lower-mid table finish in the final but room either way.
Latvia: Carousel – That Night
I’ve got a really funny feeling that this will do quite well. It was a popular choice in Latvia, winning over a quarter of the televote and internet voting in the Latvian national selection. Interestingly, the Latvian national selection also takes account of Spotify streaming, which is an absolutely genius way of partially (or entirely) selecting a song.
That Night is an acoustic wander through the wilderness that blows other lo-fi acts like Sarah McTernan’s out the water. It has a weird classy swagger to it, and a commanding female lead vocal that has an almost airy, breathlessness to it, which gives it real character. Sure, there’s not a key change, but you can quite imagine this easily being in the background on an American sitcom or drama. The chorus is an instant hum-along and I expect it to perform well in Tel Aviv.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? I think a flop in the final, but it should at the very least qualify.
Romania: Ester Peony – On A Sunday
Romania have had a bit of an expensive road back to the competition in the past few years. The national broadcaster owed sixteen million Swiss francs in debts in 2016 and was actually withdrawn from the competition for lack of payment. That year, and last year, were the only two occasions since that Romania had actually failed to reach the final of Eurovision. I’m torn as to whether or not this one will make it through.
Ester Peony is a young songstress nurtured in Montreal. Her song, On a Sunday, has a moody swagger to it, but I’m honestly not sure whether or not the audience will warm to it; further jeopardising its progress will be the accusation from several commentators that it plagiarised an American folk song, The Wayfaring Stranger. I just don’t know how the audience will react.
Will it qualify? I have no idea. If I had to choose, yes. How will it do? Again, this could finish anywhere from fifth to twenty-sixth. I just don’t know.
Denmark: Leonora – Love Is Forever
Pigs have flown in Copenhagen, as Denmark have finally, at long last, entered a song with some Danish lyrics. And German. Plus some French. The choice clearly proved popular with the national jury, although not the most popular with the public, which is interesting to see. I think the Danes have made the right choice here.
I don’t think it’s a winner, but the song is twee and cutesy, a nice change from the moody anthems and slow acoustic numbers that will precede it; it reminds me immensely of Lenka’s The Show, if you remember that song (probably not, but in that case it’s worth a Google just to see what I mean). I think the choice to jump into a language other than English will also massively benefit it. With so many songs entered in English nowadays, any foray into native tongue has to be respected.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Optimistically top ten although we’ll see how it plays out.
Sweden: John Lundvik – Too Late For Love
Ah, the song that will almost certainly shoot British Eurovision chances in the foot. In fact, he wrote our song. Which is a little bit embarrassing if I’m honest, but it is what it is: the guy has serious songwriting credentials, having written songs for the Crown Princess of Sweden as well as our tiny island. Sweden is well known for being a Eurovision giant, with their selection process, Melodifestivalen, being an integral part of the Eurovision preparatory calendar. Their credentials in the competition are almost unrivalled, and they are more or less a shoe-in to do well, no matter who they send.
The song itself is an upbeat pop number, incorporating Rudimental style backing-vocals and the requisite key change at the end of the song. It has already gained significant speed and press in the run up to the competition, having comfortably seen off all other competition in Melodifestivalen. It now steps up the Eurovision plate with everything to gain.
Will it qualify? Bet your house on it (please don’t). How will it do? I hope it doesn’t win, but then it may very well do. Top three to five.
Austria: PAENDA – Limits
After having a torrid time in the competition for many years prior, Austria finally found their feet in 2014 with the triumph of – now competition icon – Conchita Wurst, the bearded lady. They scored a really unlikely third place with Cesar Sampson last year, and look to continue their success with PAENDA, known to her parents as Gabriela Horn.
Another classically trained jazz musician, Gabriela writes and records her own material. Which is a nice touch. But this song sounds and feels a little over-produced, which is quite something given that I am evaluating a Eurovision entry. Mrs Panda delivers her vocals on Limits in the same way that the lead singer that Carousel from Latvia has a breathlessness about her delivery. However, I don’t think it has the same impact. What will really kill it off is that it performs after Sweden, a final resting place in a semi-final if ever there was one.
Will it qualify? No. How will it do? It won’t qualify, beyond that I can’t tell.
Croatia: Roko Blazevic – The Dream
This song was co-written by a guy called Jacques Houdek. Houdat? Well, he entered the contest a couple of years ago with the song My Friend, a bizarre collage of balladry and opera performed in one of the weirdest stagings of all time. You must absolutely give that song three minutes of your time, just as you categorically mustn’t bother with this year’s offering.
The Dream is like My Friend but without any of the vocal prowess or any of the other redeeming qualities. The only benefit I can give it is that some of it is in Croatian. Nevertheless, it remains an utterly soulless ballad that will struggle against better ballads, such as the Russian entry, which it sounds like a supermarket remix of. The dream has died.
Will it qualify? Probably not. How will it do? Expect it to flop.
Malta: Michela – Chameleon
This song might just bring it home to Valletta this year. Of all the dance songs this year, this one is by far the most original and one of the catchiest. It definitely has that Fuego factor about it and is bound to spark delirium among the dedicated Eurovision fans in Tel Aviv. It sounds like a song that could genuinely top a chart in any country and the drop will genuinely take you by surprise (it certainly did me).
The opening chords have an air of Kelis’ “Trick Me” to it. Like I’ve said before, the drop is what makes it stand out, and it even has that touch of salsa piano which has been worming into a lot of Western pop and hip-hop recently. Put most female vocalists at the wheel of this song and they could probably do a good job with it, but I think Michela is quite frankly onto a banger here.
Will it qualify? Without doubt. How will it do? Top Five. Might bring it home in what would be a stunning and costly result for the Maltese.
Lithuania: Jurij Veklenko – Run With The Lions
The only thing that could make this song palatable in the semi-final is if we put Mr Veklenko on a giant treadmill, running away from actual (and preferably hungry) lions. This song is utterly charmless, an aimless attempt at electro-pop balladry that would make even the most mainstream of mainstream pop producers shudder with boredom.
The tagline goes “we have a love that cannot be caged”. Hopefully the big fluffy death-cats won’t be either, so as to put a swift end to this misery. It’s right up there with Germany as my least favourite entry of the competition this year. Expect it to be swept under in a wave of Maltese fire.
Will it qualify? If it does then humanity has even less hope. How will it do? Bottom of qualifier, propping up Ireland.
Russia: Sergey Lazarev – SCREAM
Speaking of big beasts, here comes another. Sergey did very well the first time around in 2016, performing You Are The Only One, coming third overall but winning the televote. This song is a little bit slower but is sure to be as dramatically staged as the last one, where Lazarev spun around on top of a video wall with staging fit to win any competition.
This is a big, strong ballad. Sergey has a great voice and with the technical budget that Russia have access to for state-sponsored occasions like this, it’s sure to be very well staged. There’s lot of dramatic strings and war-drums and I would be astounded if this didn’t make the top ten.
Will it qualify? Another dead cert. How will it do? Can’t see it winning but top ten for sure.
Albania: Jonida Maliqi – Ktheju Tokes
Bless Albania. Every year they smash a song for Eurovision out, more or less first, as part of their esteemed Eurovision selection process, Festival i Kenges. What’s more, they almost more often than not release a song in the native tongue, staunchly defiant of the anglicisation that has taken over the rest of Europe (this being said, the last four out of five years’ entries have been in English so the tide may be turning).
This entry is another dark foray into the war-drum closet that Sergey and other have been raiding in preparation for this year’s competition. Pair that with an esteemed artist in Jonida Maliqi, a soprano-sfogato with a cracking timbre and you have yourself a bona fide Eurovision entry. This will probably do rather well, being the better of the moody entries this year.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Might be top ten in final but calling 10-15 on the safe side.
Norway: Keiino – Spirit in the Sky
Credit to the Norwegians, as they have at least tried to give some airing to their rich multi-ethnic populations with a nod to the joik, a type of song that was born among the Sami, or Laplanders to you and I. That being said, it has also encompassed very contemporary influences in this dance number. Keiino themselves on their website describe the song as a “Nordic cocktail of joik, folk tones and camp pop”, which to be fair is a pretty spot-on description.
For me it lacks a spark, an X-Factor that really sets it apart. I appreciate what they’ve done with regards to inclusiveness of the Sami traditions and culture and totally accept what Keiino attempt to achieve, a noble pursuit by any standards. I think it will qualify but will ultimately fall a bit flat in the final; the unfortunate truth is that Joe Casual doesn’t care much for heritage, he cares for bangers. There are better out there this year.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Predicting a final flop, but hoping to be proved wrong.
The Netherlands: Duncan Laurence – Arcade
An internal selection, Duncan Laurence looks to continue the Dutch tradition of sending a song that broadly speaking, is impossible to call in terms of popularity. The Dutch have had a comparatively purple patch in recent years after an absolutely barren period between 2005 and 2012 in which they failed to qualify even once, with The Common Linnets coming second to Conchita Wurst in 2014.
The upshot is that I’m just not sure. On one side, Laurence’s entry is a fairly competent attempt at a ballad, with influences from electronic music and a bit of Einaudi-esque piano buried deep within there. Then again, there’s also nothing really that remarkable about it. It does everything to a satisfactory extent but excels in no key areas. It’s a fan favourite and some bookmakers have it as near as odds on to bag the whole thing, but I’m not sold.
Will it qualify? Yes. How will it do? Impossible to call. Bookmakers aren’t usually wrong, but flops happen.
North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – Proud
North Macedonia, as they are now known, are going through a bit of a tumultuous time at the moment. Despite the wild protests of many Greeks and some Macedonians, the name change to include ‘North’ in the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was ratified. Their first entry under the country’s new name will be Tamara Todevska.
The song is a pro-feminine anthem released to coincide with International Women’s Day. Applause-worthy as it is, the song is painfully average. It’s a cocktail of very cliched Eurovision tactics, none of which are executed with much success. The lead vocals aren’t as showstopping as some of the others in the competition, and the name change is unlikely to leave North Macedonia with that many friends in the televote. Old name or new name, I’m afraid the musical arrangement for this song is nothing special.
Will it qualify? No. How will it do? Down there with Ireland and Lithuania.
Azerbaijan: Chingiz – Truth
Azerbaijan last won the competition in 2011 during a golden period in their Eurovision history, where they achieved Top Five finishes in five consecutive years inclusive of 2009 and 2013. However, their recent Eurovision history has been absolutely nothing to shout about; Azerbaijan failed to qualify for the final, for the first time last year. I can see this song meeting the same fate.
Chingiz Mustafayev is a Russian born performer who will represent the oil-rich nation with Truth. The ‘truth’ is that this is another nothing song. It’s a really rather dull electro-pop number, with no real distinguishing factors to push it ahead of any of the myriad electro-pop anthems in the competition this year. It sits in a mediocre pocket of the second semi-final which inspires no hope in anyone; back to the drawing board, please.
Will it qualify? No. How will it do? Who cares, I’ve done like forty of these.
Well done! You made it. Now, go ahead and buy the numerous bottles of booze you’re going to need primarily for the party you’re having this year, but also to help you forget that you’ve managed to get to the end of a rambling article by someone with a genuinely unhealthy obsession with this competition.
As for who’s making it out of this semi-final, I’m calling Russia, Malta, Albania, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Latvia, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.
Now, the important matter of my prediction to win this year’s Eurovision. It’s a mighty tough one this year, if I’m honest. There’s no absolute runaway favourite and there are some sneaky songs in there who could develop fan fever somewhere between the semi-final and the final. In fact, the truth is that I haven’t the foggiest who could walk out of there with the title. Beasts like Sweden and Russia should always be taken seriously, as should Cyprus and Italy. It’s also worth giving the Czech Republic and Belgium their chance with good staging, as well as France for it’s bold political statement. Hell, a lot of the bookmakers have The Netherlands and Azerbaijan up there, despite my protestations (some have The Netherlands at 2/1). I also think Australia are in with a categorically strong shout of winning: if I weren’t going for the pick I’m going for, I would have gone Katie and her opera-hardbass extravaganza. At the very least I see another podium finish if not a gold medal.
Ultimately though, I’m going with none of these choices. Salvador Sobral and Eleni Foureira have taught us that the power of the semi-final push is absolutely formidable, and as such I am sticking my neck out and taking a huge risk with my prediction here.
I’m calling Malta to win Eurovision this year. I was right about Salvador, and hopefully I’ll be right here too. I just believe so deeply in that drop, in that Fuego Fever, to carry it home and cause what would be a bit of an upset. If Valletta calls in 2020, I’ll be shocked and thrilled. Australia, The Netherlands (ew), Sweden, and Italy to round out the Top Five, in descending order.