SERBIA: “Beauty Never Lies” – Bojana Stamenov. Just like the Macedonian entry, this entry was performed during the national finals in Serbian as “Ceo Svet Je Moj”, which means “The World is Mine”. In its English incarnation, it is an “empowerment” anthem about appreciating inner beauty. The original Serbian lyrics tell a different story–it’s more about a girl opening her heart to love after being closed out for so long. But what remains unchanged is the melody, the acoustic/pop-rock opening structure that then transitions into a fierce dance jam 2/3 into the song, and of course the fiercely passionate Martha Wash-like vocal delivery of Bojana. The merits of this entry and the presence of the Balkan and ex-Soviet blocs would help boost this entry’s chances of making it to the finals.
There are two music video versions of this entry–the first features Bojana in a studio and various fans and celebrities lip-syncing to the song. The second is a sleekly produced video featuring sexy models. I prefer the first version as it embodies the “empowerment” message of the English version of the song better.
HUNGARY: “Wars for Nothing” – Boggie. Sure, the sentiments of this folk song are very noble, but I find the message too on-the-nose that I find it a bit of a turn-off. But then again, remember they succeeded with a whispery folk-pop entry two years ago and landed in the finals Top Ten–it would depend if those “Kevdesem” fans are in full-force this time to boost this entry’s prospects.
BELARUS: “Time” – Uzari & Maimuna. Though there are two stars in this male-female act, there is only one vocalist–the male singer Uzari, who vocally reminds me of two-time mega-successful Eurovision veteran from Russia, Dima Bilan. The female act Maimuna is a classical violinist. Another interesting fact about Maimuna is that she is biracial as her father is from the African nation of Mali–it is rare to hear about half-African Slavs; the last time we saw one was Ukrainian singer Gaitana (who has Congolese roots) back in 2012. Her presence in this contest made me fantasize that perhaps considering the controversies former violin prodigy Vanessa-Mae has been encountering in her foray as an Olympic alpine skier (representing Thailand since her father is of Thai descent) she should return back to music and maybe represent either the UK or Switzerland (where she now lives) in this contest. This song is actually fundamentally a ballad, but it’s given some dance beats that are then accented by Maimuna’s violin-playing, which makes this number a standout. It’s one of my personal favorites.
RUSSIA: “A Million Voices” – Polina Gagarina. The song is a solid, well-crafted soaring ballad, and Polina’s vocal prowess is undeniable. Even if I’m not crazy about the song, I have a feeling this entry will soar all the way to the Top Five in the finals, as that is the trend with decent Russian songs in recent years (if it is a crappy song, like 2009’s “Mamo“, it will fare respectably).
DENMARK: “The Way You Are” – Anti Social Media. I’m a bit surprised that Eurovision fans are ranking this entry low, as it’s actually a solid Beatle-esque pop-rock ditty. But then again, realizing that the huge majority of the entries in this bracket are Balkan and ex-Soviet bloc countries, this entry does face an uphill battle to advance, as it’s not as compelling or infectious as recent previous entries.
ALBANIA: “I’m Alive” – Elhaida Dani. In the national final, this Voice of Italy 2013 winner won with a song called “Diell” which means “Sun”. It’s a conventional ballad, but last February, the songwriters decided to withdraw the song and another song became the official entry. I think it’s more of a strategic move made by the broadcaster as they sized up the competition and felt “Diell” is not likely to stand out. The song that replaced it, “I’m Alive”, is a propulsive uptempo semi-ethno-pop number that actually is better fit for her voice so I believe it’s a great move that the change was made.
ROMANIA: “De la capăt (All over again)” – Voltaj. It’s refreshingly different that Romania fielded a rock band this year, and this entry is one that is actually sung in the country’s native language (though 1/3 of the song will be performed in English). I’m not accusing them of plagiarism, but the song has a strong resemblance to Coldplay’s classic song “The Scientist”, with its memorable ending lyric “I’m going back to the start” so mirroring the sentiments of this song (and its title). I also hear strains that remind me of Welsh band Two Minds Crack’s 1986 song “Upside Down” (an obscurity in most of the world but a radio smash here in the Philippines). Though the song itself can be interpreted in conventional romantic terms about a man thinking about a loved one to help him carry on with life, there is actually a deeper message if you view the music video and understand it was actually written in the point of view of a migrant worker (another scenario that we Filipinos can relate). If you view the video and listen to the song with that in mind, it makes the entry more powerful and poignant. And that could ensure that this entry will advance to the finals.
Two trivial piquant notes: First, the lead singer, Călin Goia, looks to me like one of the stars of Storage Wars Jarrod Schulz. Second, a Romanian language lesson: the letter “ă” has a distinct pronunciation to the regular “a”–it is pronounced like the “u” in “cut”, in contrast to the typical pronunciation of “a’ in “father”.
GEORGIA: “Warrior” – Nina Sublatti. The producers seem to want to close the semifinals with a bang, and they will get it with this bombastic, propulsive rock number. So far in the live performances I saw Nina can replicate her ferocious vocals from the recording, so I have a strong feeling that not only will this advance into the finals, she can deliver Georgia’s best showing ever in this contest. It’s also interesting that there is another entry that shares the same song title competing in the second semifinal–this one is the clear champ, if you ask me to compare those two.
Now that the first semifinal contenders are all accounted for, here is my “fearful” forecast on who will advance:
FINALISTS: BELGIUM, NETHERLANDS, ESTONIA, GREECE, SERBIA, BELARUS, RUSSIA, ALBANIA, ROMANIA, GEORGIA
BUBBLING UNDER; ARMENIA, MACEDONIA, DENMARK