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.
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