Considering Denmark is a first world country, one would expect that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest would promise to be a state-of-the-art production. It will most likely be such, but unfortunately it won’t be as grand as one would want as this year experienced an attrition of participants. Due to budget issues, several regulars from the Balkan region like Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Bosnia & Herzegovina (who also sat out last year) decided to skip this year’s contest. Due to frustration over its weak performances, it is understandable why Slovakia likewise decided to sit out for the second year in a row, too (Czech Republic was also sitting out of this contest since 2010). Turkey continues to protest the current system of using a combination of juries and popular vote (they feel they have a better advantage if it is solely based on popular vote) plus the fact that the “Big Five” (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and United Kingdom) continues to automatically qualify for the finals, so it also continues to not participate for the second year in a row. At least there are two countries that decided to return with Poland and Portugal back in the fray.
Besides the attrition, the excitement over this year’s contest for me is rather muted than in, say, 2009 or 2012. It is not that the quality of this year’s entries are lousy–most are actually decent and there are fewer out-and-out trashy novelties and earworm-y guilty pleasures. But there are still some worthwhile treats to behold, so let us proceed with my preview with the first half of the semi-finals, starting with:
ARMENIA: “Not Alone” – Aram MP3. The name of the male singer is a bit too gimmicky for me, but it is undeniable that this is one of the stronger contenders in this year’s contest. It’s a dark, piano-and-strings-laden ballad that then segued into a dubstep climax, those disparate threads held together with Aram’s smoky and gritty singing voice. One of my Top Five favorites in this year’s contest.
LATVIA: “Cake to Bake” – Aarzemnieki. This is a melodic folk-pop ditty but it’s rather twee. I don’t think the former USSR bloc would help shore this entry’s fortunes.
ESTONIA: “Amazing” – Tanja. It’s actually a decent well-sung dance-pop song, and she’ll jazz up the presentation by dancing and singing simultaneously. It might be enough for this entry to advance to the finals.
SWEDEN: “Undo” – Sanna Nielsen. This entry beat the likes of 2005 champion Helena Paparizou in Melodifestivalen to represent Sweden in this contest. It’s a well-crafted pop ballad with its verses resembling Miley Cyrus’s smash hit “Wrecking Ball”. It has a catchy chorus, but some English listeners may cringe at the grammar: “Undo my sad”? Still, Eurovision fans are rallying behind this and are betting this will win the contest. I’m cool with that, though it’s clearly no “Euphoria”. I suppose another key factor that would make voters support this entry is that instead of hosting next year’s Eurovision themselves with the current economic crunch, they would rather hand it to a rich country that has a major passion for this contest, like a Nordic country like Sweden…
ICELAND: “No Prejudice” – Pollapönk. This is the closest thing we have to a novelty number, but despite the brightly colored outfits, the song is generally upbeat ska with an earnest message. One might wonder if they should be better off singing the song in the original Icelandic (as “Enga fordóma”) or in its current English incarnation. I think no one would relate it in a lesser-spoken language, so English might indeed be the way to go. But I’m not confident despite the presence of Sweden and Denmark in the voting panel that this would advance to the finals.
ALBANIA: “One Night’s Anger” – Hersi. Like Iceland, this entry won its national final performed in its original language, Albanian, as “Zemërimi i nje natë” (and the artist was identified with her full name, Herciana Matmuja). But unlike Iceland, I think it sounded a bit more haunting in it’s original language, as the English version sounded a bit watered down that it sounded less than special as a result. But it might still garner enough support to qualify to the finals.
RUSSIA: “Shine” – Tolmachevy Sisters. These blonde twin sisters previously had Eurovision experience, competing at the 2006 Junior Eurovision contest (meant for singers below 16 years old) at the age of nine and winning it. Since they are now 17-year-old teenagers, they are old enough to compete in the big leagues. This slice of 1960s-style Phil Spector wall-of-sound pop is appealing enough, but I feel with the current sentiment due to the political situation in Ukraine, these innocent comely twins might bear the brunt of the expected backlash–in any other year, this would probably fare high up in the Top Five in the finals–but in this kind of year, they will probably be lucky to advance to the finals. It’s interesting to note that they came up with two video versions–the first version submitted to the EBU is a bland pastel color video, while the new official video is more visually interesting set in black-and-white.
AZERBAIJAN: “Start a Fire” – Dilara Kazamova. This is a very dignified, stately, passionately well-sung ballad. It’s a cinch that Azerbaijan will advance to the finals, and be successful–I don’t think it will rank as high as its terrific preceding entry, but it is likely to sustain its Top 10 streak since it joined in 2008,
COMING UP: THE 1ST SEMI-FINAL, 2ND HALF, plus “Fearful” Forecast for those who will advance to the finals.