EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2015 SONG PREVIEW: AUTOMATIC FINALISTS

Three of the seven non-English language entries are found among the automatic finalists, which this year consists of the “Big Five”, the host nation Austria, and “guest” competitor Australia.  Which of them will crack the Top Ten in the finals?  Since the running order will not be known until the finalists are selected, I’ll present them in alphabetical order as follows:

AUSTRALIA: “Tonight Again” – Guy Sebastian.  Eurovision fans were hoping that this country would be represented by superstar Kylie Minogue.  Many of them were let down that it was another person instead.  But then again, one must need to consider that this fellow knows all about competing, as he is the first winner of Australian Idol.  There was talk about the possible scenario on who would host if this entry wins, but though it is a strong entry, I think Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Azerbaijan are more formidable.  I’ll expect a strong Top Ten to Top Five showing for this pop/R&B jam.

AUSTRIA: “I Am Yours” – The Makemakes.  Bo Bice, what are you doing representing Austria in this contest?  Doesn’t the lead singer of this band physically and vocally resemble that American Idol Season 4 runner-up, albeit singing in a more R&B style than what you would expect from the soulful Southern-fried rocker.  This is not expected to duplicate Conchita’s victory, but it will fare respectably.

FRANCE: “N’Oubliez pas [Don’t forget]” – Lisa Angell.  After the debacle that was Twin Twin’s “Moustache” last year, this country is expected to shore up its fortunes with this entry.  It’s clearly more tasteful and respectable, but though I don’t expect this to languish in the bottom like last year, I think its best prospects is a middle-pack showing.

GERMANY: “Black Smoke” – Ann Sophie.  On its merits, it’s a well-written pop song, and also well sung.  Many Eurovision observers and pundits feel this has what it takes to place in the Top Ten overall.  I agree with their assessment.  Not bad for an entry that was actually the runner-up in the national finals.

The national finals is an interesting story.  The actual winner was  Andreas Kummerz, who previously won The Voice of Germany in 2013, with “Heart of Stone”.  Listening to the actual winning entry, I feel that there is a good basis why it won–it’s a catchier song, and Andreas Kummerz is a soulful force of nature.  So why did he decline the “honor” to compete for Germany immediately after being declared the winner? My speculation is Andreas was not really aiming to win but simply to showcase this wonderful, soulfully sung American-style number, and besides that, he probably feels he’s not the sort who can create a good visual image that is needed to make serious inroads in this contest.  But then again, I have a feeling his “anti-charismatic” image may actually work to his benefit if he actually competed in this contest.  His singing chops are just too formidable, and the song is so deliciously good, he could’ve probably have a near-guaranteed Top Five placement with that song.  Such a shame we are only left with a “what-if” scenario.

ITALY:  “Grande Amore [Great Love]” – Il Volo.  I was aware of this operatic trio a few years ago as they promoted their debut album on an episode of American Idol.  Their album made the Top 10 in America and elsewhere around the world.  I think they felt since then they needed an extra kickstart for their career, so they competed at famous San Remo Song Festival, won, and got the right to compete in this contest.  With this lush pop operatic ballad, they might even win it all judging from the buzz amongst Eurovision observers and pundits.  So far it looks like there is a North-South divide in terms on choice of winner: the Northern European states tend to prefer Sweden, while the Southern European states tend to prefer this entry.  Let’s see how this all plays out when the finals come.

SPAIN: “Amanecer [Dawn]” – Edurne.  Again Spain decides to field a female soloist with formidable vocal chops.  But unlike Pastora Soler’s “Quedate Conmigo” and Ruth Lorenzo’s “Dancing in the Rain”, this one is not really a ballad.  It’s a bit too fast to be a ballad, but I can’t say it’s an uptempo number either.  I’ll just call this a classically tinged epic piece instead.  For the performance in the finals, the Spanish contingent will feature a hunky male dancer to accompany Edurne and interpret the lyrics of the song.  A Top Ten placement seems to be assured–but now the question is, can it rank above 10th place?

UNITED KINGDOM: “Still in Love with You” – Electro Velvet.  I have a gnawing feeling the BBC has given up in frustration after Molly’s “Children of the Universe” fell short of pre-contest expectations.  Okay, so this entry is actually entertaining in its 1920s-Charleston-meets-electro-pop fusion, but many Eurovision pundits and observers are concerned that this entry could languish in last place and probably even get the dreaded “nul points” earned by Jemini (another male-female duo) back in 2003.  For their sake, I hope that dire fate will not materialize.

Here’s how I think the finals will end up:

TOP TEN:  RUSSIA, GEORGIA, NORWAY, AZERBAIJAN, ICELAND, SWEDEN, SLOVENIA, AUSTRALIA, ITALY, SPAIN

BUBBLING UNDER:  ESTONIA, SERBIA, BELARUS, ALBANIA, ROMANIA, ISRAEL, AUSTRIA, GERMANY

As I mentioned before, what I predict to make the Top Ten may not necessarily be my personal favorite choices, so let me trot out my own personal favorites.

PERSONAL TOP 10:  1) SWEDEN 2) GEORGIA 3) SLOVENIA  4) SERBIA 5) ICELAND 6) AUSTRALIA 7) BELARUS 8) ALBANIA 9) SPAIN 10) ITALY

BUBBLING UNDER:  F.Y.R. MACEDONIA, AZERBAIJAN, ROMANIA, LITHUANIA, AUSTRIA, BELGIUM

This year’s Eurovision final is looking to be a showdown of hunks–who will win between the Swedish pop hunk or the trio of Italian operatic hunks?  And can Norway, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Georgia, or Australia overtake those two and pull off an upset?  I’m generally satisfied with the qualities of this year’s entries.  Hope merits will indeed prevail.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST 2015 SONG PREVIEW: 2ND SEMIFINAL (PART 2)

ISRAEL: “Golden Boy” – Nadav Guedj.  It’s a bit frustrating for Israel in the past four editions as it fielded generally well-regarded entries (with the exception of 2012–that sounded like ABBA’s “Nina Pretty Ballerina” if it was arranged with a whoopee cushion) but failed to advance in the finals; the drought ironically started with former Eurovision champion Dana International and her entry, “Ding Dong”, which gave her the dubious distinction of being the first former Eurovision champion to fail to advance to the finals with a subsequent entry.  Many Eurovision fans and pundits believe this entry will finally break that drought.  Sure, it has the gimmick of the singer wearing golden shoes, and the verses and refrain have great funky grooves.  But personally I hate the ethno-pop chorus.  Look, I like ethno-pop entries if they are done well, but I feel the ethno-pop element of this song seems oddly spliced in and doesn’t really make sense with the rest of the song, even if it is arguably the catchiest element in it.  My main objection is that I find the lyrics of the chorus idiotic, and even if people could justify the swagger and confidence conveyed in those dumb lyrics as a man shaking off his cares away to go out and party, it just sounds dumb to me.  But then again, doesn’t the Black Eyed Peas also feature dumb choruses like the ones on “Boom Boom Pow” and “My Humps”?  Still, it’s overdue for this country to see action in the finals.

LATVIA: “Love Injected” – Aminata.  Based on the rehearsals, she will look like a dreamily frothy confection in a white serpentine ballgown standing still as she belts out her sparse techno pop track.  Though the visuals and the music seem a mismatch, this entry is well regarded by Eurovision fans and pundits and justifiably so.  It is well sung, and the sound is very modern, hip, and unique.  Moreover, Aminata is an exotic sight as she’s another of those rare Slavo-Baltic and Afro combos, with her dad coming from the landlocked Central African nation of Burkina Faso.

AZERBAIJAN: “Hour of the Wolf” – Elnur Hüseynov.  Elnur previously saw action in this contest as part of a duo with Samir Javadzadeh when his country debuted in Eurovision back in 2008.  Back then, his persona was glam-rock with bleached hair, and he showcased over-the-top theatrics with his vocals (though to my ears he sounded screechy at the time).  He was like an Adam Lambert prototype, though remember in 2008 the world has not yet known of Adam Lambert.  Since then, he tried to spread his wings further by going to Turkey to compete (and win) in their version of The Voice.  Now in his second go-round, he toned down his image and his vocals in this number has this much-welcomed finesse.  For Twilight die-hards fantasizing turning the book and movie franchise into a musical, this song can be a theme song for hunky werewolf Jacob Black, and I mean that as a compliment.  Azerbaijan will sustain its finals streak for sure, and more than that, after its lackluster finals showing last year, Elnur will bring Azerbaijan back to the Top Ten (or even Top Five) with this one.

ICELAND: “Unbroken” – Maria Olafs.  This is a lovely, soaring, well-sung teen-pop ballad.  In the national final and in the music video, there are two female contemporary dancers featured to accompany the performance, but for Eurovision, there will be no dancers.  Which is such a shame as they made an indelible impact, in my opinion, and there was a time that I thought this is going to be the one that will place second behind Sweden.  I still believe this song is strong enough to advance to the final, but I’m not certain if it can secure a Top Ten placement.

SWEDEN: “Heroes” – Måns Zelmerlöw.  He physically reminds me of Darren Hayes, the singer in the Australian disbanded duo Savage Garden, with Måns being the slightly hunkier, heterosexual (controversially so, but he’s actually gay-friendly) version.  From the very first time I listened to this song, I was so hooked and thought that this is the front runner to this year’s contest.  It ticks all the boxes: it is a well-crafted pop song; the singer can deliver singing this song well live; and the presentation has appealing visuals.  Sure, Norway, Italy, and Azerbaijan are formidable entries, but for me nothing can compare to this dance-pop number.

Darren Hayes (image courtesy of Attitude Magazine)
Darren Hayes (image courtesy of Attitude Magazine)
Mans Zelmerlow (courtesy of Eurovision.tv)
Mans Zelmerlow (courtesy of Eurovision.tv

The song did generate some controversy over plagiarism, both musically and visually (referring to the visual presentation when it won Melodifestivalen).  Musically, there were some observers who noticed the song resembles David Guetta’s Euro-smash “Lovers on the Sun”.  Yes, the spaghetti-western vibe and dry, twangy vocal delivery on the verses do raise a cause for concern, but I think there are enough differences especially in the chorus that we can give it a pass.  Now, regarding the visuals, yes, the stick figure in the video backdrop resembles the visual multimedia performance art piece by A DandyPunk’s “Alchemy of Light”, so the subtle alterations are indeed needed and welcomed.  Instead of a duncecap, the stick figure became a bit rounder and sported an outfit that resembles Alice in Wonderland’s Tweedledee and Tweedledum characters, but in this instance I doubt that the estate of Lewis Carroll would sue because that outfit seems to be a common outfit for little boys around the turn of the 20th century.

Here’s also another portent that could spell Måns’ eventual victory in this contest, becoming the sixth for his country overall and the successor to Loreen’s victory with “Euphoria” three years ago:  just like Loreen, he’s a product of Sweden’s Idol series, placing fifth in its second season (Loreen placed third in the first season).  An eerie coincidence is the song he auditioned with: it was Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero”.  Check out his Idol audition below:

SWITZERLAND: “Time to Shine” – Mélanie René.  This is a well-sung rhythmic melodramatic ballad.  I was torn between this and Montenegro on which of them would advance to the final, but I think the atmospheric visuals (with her looking like a bewitching forest nymph) and drummers that are accompanying this presentation could help give Melanie the edge to make the finals.  Italy’s presence in voting for this round could also help up shore up this entry’s fortunes.

CYPRUS: “One Thing I Should Have Done” – John Karayiannis.  This number is a cute acoustic ballad.  I find this a snoozer, so I feel this will not make the final cut, especially with an extremely competitive field of entries in this bracket (remember the Nordic entries and Azerbaijan are particularly formidable).  I would prefer if he performed the dance remix version on the Eurovision stage instead, but then again, remember this type of style worked for Finland’s Paradise Oskar four years ago and Malta’s Gianluca Bezzina two years ago.  Can this bespectacled geek turn on that puppy-dog charm and advance?

SLOVENIA: “Here for You” – Maraaya.  Despite the name, this act is actually a duo–Maraaya is actually a combination of the names of female singer Marjetka Vovk and male producer/multi-instrumentalist Raay (born Aleš Vovk)–from the looks of things they are a married husband-and-wife duo.  The retro-styled pop and quirky voice are so appealing that it is a favorite among Eurovision observers and pundits (including myself).  There might be a chance that this entry could even improve upon its best finishes at this contest back in 1995 and 2001–in both instances, it placed 7th, and this song is way better and cooler than those previous successes.

POLAND: “In the Name of Love” – Monika Kuszyńska.  The last time we see a disabled contestant in this contest, it was back in 2008 with blind singer Diana Gurtskaya from Georgia.  This lady’s disability is that she’s paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident back in 2006.  Her entry is a conventional ballad–somewhat in the style of Isis Gee when she competed in 2008.  The human interest angle may trump the merits of this number to help it qualify to the final.

Now that the second semifinal is accounted for, here is my take on who will qualify:

FINALISTS:  LITHUANIA, NORWAY, ISRAEL, LATVIA, AZERBAIJAN, ICELAND, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND,  SLOVENIA, POLAND

BUBBLING UNDER:  MALTA, MONTENEGRO, CYPRUS

COMING UP: THE AUTOMATIC FINALISTS and my FINALS “FEARFUL” FORECAST