UKRAINE – “Tick-Tock” – Maria Yaremchuk. This country has a nice formula down pat–field a fierce, sexy and/or gorgeous singer (Verka Serduchka and Green Jolly notwithstanding), and reap the rewards. But unlike the smashing 3rd place finish last year, this funky entry is not expected to fare as well (though it will advance to the final), though it will have a visual gimmick–a hunk running inside a giant hamster wheel.
BELGIUM – “Mother” – Axel Hiroux. The guy doesn’t have charisma to my eyes and the song is melodramatic mush, but he does have a terrific operatic voice. And that would probably be enough for him to be catnip for jury votes and qualify for the finals.
MOLDOVA – “Wild Soul” – Cristina Scarlat. This old-fashioned campily dramatic number made me miss Pasha Parfeny and Aliona Moon–hell, it even made me miss Zdob si Zdub, and I’m not fond of that band. It will suffer the fate of Geta Burlacu six years ago and not advance to the finals.
SAN MARINO – “Maybe (Forse)” – Valentina Monetta. Well, Valentina seems very tenacious as this is her third consecutive participation in this contest. Any song is probably an improvement to her infamous first entry, “The Social Network Song (Uh-Oh)”, but i loved last year’s “Crisalide (Vola)” better. This is a classy, dramatic ballad number with some underlying dance beats. Yes, this year’s bench is a bit shallower so it is possible she could finally advance to the finals this time, but in order for her to do that, she needs to be absolutely pitch-perfect–what hurt the otherwise terrific “Crisalide (Vola)” from advancing was a sub-par live presentation, and that was frustrating for me and several other viewers who had high hopes for that entry last year.
PORTUGAL – “Quero Ser Tua [I Want to be Yours]” – Suzy. It’s nice to see Portugal back to this contest. And it’s refreshing to listen to an upbeat, percussive ditty for a change, even if it sounds like a rewrite of France’s 2010 entry, “Allez Ola Ole” by Jessy Matador. Now, though Spain is likely to send some points its way, I’m not sure if that will be enough for this entry to advance to the finals.
NETHERLANDS – “Calm After the Storm” – The Common Linnets. There are fans who have a high regard for this entry. It’s a modern-country style song that reminds me of the bigger hits by Lady Antebellum (particularly their mega-smash “Need You Now”) filtered with the dark and moody vibe evoked by estranged country act The Civil Wars. I don’t think this would be successful as last year’s “Birds”, and there is no certainty that Europeans would dig this kind of genre, but there is still a chance this act will advance forward to the finals.
MONTENEGRO – “Moj Svjet [My World]” – Sergej Ćetković. This is actually a strong native-language folk ballad entry, with a good melody and strong passionate singing. However there are two things going against it–first the Balkan bloc is currently decimated as several Balkan countries decided to sit out this year; and second, I have a major issue that it seems the song ended abruptly (to meet the 3-minute time limit); it seems when the singer was about to launch into a grander, soaring chorus, the song just cuts off. Is this intentional? If not, why can’t they rearrange the verses around so we can get to a climax? As it is, it feels like the climax came about 2/3 into the song and then is a let-down at the end.
HUNGARY – “Running” – András Kállay-Saunders. This is arguably Hungary’s best entry to this contest ever. Let’s start with the songcraft: the melody is strong, the message deep and serious (it’s about domestic abuse), the lyrics poetic and impressionistic without being too explicit about the message, the music classy and sophisticated, and the skittering drum-and-bass beats at the chorus served to aptly underline and emphasize the tension depicted in the message and the lyrics. Then, there is the singing–there is a nice Adele-esque soulful smokiness that I hear in the delivery, and there is warmth and empathy permeating throughout, and yes, the guy hits every note fine. Then there is the stage presentation that tastefully emphasizes the message without being too cheesy. I’m confident that Hungary is due to outdo its 4th place best finish in its official debut 20 years ago (it had the potential to do so three years ago with Kati Wolf’s “What About My Dreams”, but unfortunately it was marred by an underwhelming live performance and presentation). In my opinion this entry should win the Marcel Bezençon Composer’s Award this year.
You might wonder about the urban/R&B styling (both musical and physical) of Andras (pronounced An-drash for English-speaking readers),which we don’t typically expect in a European entry. One might even notice how the guy resembles Canadian rapper Drake. There are very good reasons why: For starters, like Drake he is bi-racial as he is half-African-American and half-Hungarian, his dad being musician Fernando Saunders (most famous for his work with the late, great Lou Reed, but he has also worked with musical superstars like Pat Benatar and Heart) and was born and raised in the US. His urban/R&B cred is clearly legit, so to speak. Another interesting note is that he had attempted to represent Hungary for Eurovision last year, and actually dominated the jury votes, but the system was the winner was solely determined by public vote (after the top four jury choices advanced) and he was overshadowed by ByeAlex’s “Kevdesem” that year–imagine if that competed, wonder how that would’ve fared? But then again, “My Baby” is rather romantic lightweight (but well-done) fluff compared to the gravitas of this stunningly stellar entry.
With the 1st semifinal entries all accounted for, let me trot out who I think will advance to the finals:
TOP 10: ARMENIA, SWEDEN, ESTONIA, ALBANIA, RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE, BELGIUM, NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY
BUBBLING UNDER: SAN MARINO, MONTENEGRO