Many Eurovision fans and pundits used to feel that the second semifinal this year is a less competitive bracket, with many weaker links than in the first semifinal. However as rehearsal buzz came in, some lesser regarded entries garnered increasing buzz that it suddenly became less predictable than originally perceived.
LATVIA: “Heartbeat” – Justs. This song was written by last year’s representative, Aminata, and like Aminata’s “Love Injected”, this is a sparse electro-pop gem, and the staging is expected to also be spare and simple. Despite the simplicity, many (including myself) still regard this as a shoo-in and a Top Ten finals contender. This is part of a very strong Baltic contingent this year, and Just’s distinctively gritty voice and scruffy boyish appeal would boost this entry’s prospects.
POLAND: “Color of Your Life” – Michał Szpak. The song is overly sentimental and old-fashioned, but it has a soaring “woh-woh” chorus that seems to be hooking the public along with Michał’s consistently strong live vocals. Despite the good prospects of this entry and the obvious vocal talent of the singer, I couldn’t get myself to like this song as I get distracted by the way the singer looks–he constantly reminds me of “Weird Al” Yankovic. Okay, I like “Weird Al” as an artist, but he specializes in comedy (and brilliantly at that) but this artist is supposed to be earnest and serious. This is the one “drecky” entry that is most likely to advance. And like recent entries from this country, it will rank high in the popular vote but it’s expected to get low marks from the juries.
SWITZERLAND: “The Last of Our Kind” – Rykka. The song is a strong pop number, and Rykka is actually based in Canada–and remember 28 years ago, a Canadian representing this nation won. But unlike the eventual megastar that Celine Dion has beocme, prospects of this advancing to the final are dimming. First are issues with her consistently staying on pitch. I don’t think lowering the key is enough for Rykka to stay on pitch, though she is reportedly doing a better job. But then there is the image change–she dyed her platinum blonde locks a shade of blue and is sporting a garish costume. Melanie René was unjustly ranked last in last year’s semifinals, and it’s unlikely Rykka will vindicate that showing and may even veer towards equaling that finish.
ISRAEL: “Made of Stars” – Hovi Star. He reminds me of 1986-era Boy George, which may explain that incident with a homophobic official at the Moscow airport prior to performing at the Russia Eurovision preview party there. The entry was also one of the most radical makeovers in this year’s contest–when it was unveiled to the public, it had this heavy handed rock-leaning arrangement that left fans gagging and clamoring that they change the song. But stripping down the arrangement to strings and piano through out the first 3/4 of the song gave the song life and put its beautiful message on the forefront. Buzz from the rehearsals also made its stock rise that it might become a likely finalist.
BELARUS: “Help You Fly” – Ivan. There was heavy publicity that they plan to feature Ivan naked on stage with live wolves. Turns out that will only be what we would be seeing on the backdrop (of course, because EBU regulations won’t allow them). Despite that hype and the splashy presentation, most Eurovision fans are cold towards this entry. I’m not that into this guy’s appeal, but I can understand that there is still a fanbase who dig his Fabio-style persona. The song, well, I’m actually fine with it, but I far preferred last year’s entry, the underrated non-finalist “Time” by Uzari and Maimuna.
SERBIA: “Goodbye (Shelter)” – Sanja Vučić ZAA. When the video was first unveiled, it made me think Sanja looks like Christina Aguilera in a Halloween party dressed up as the late Amy WInehouse, with the vocal calibre of, say, Fergie. But when she joined the preview party circuit, we see a different girl, a bubbly, bright ingenue with a flawless American accent. Her vocal caliber proved to be closer to Xtina’s stratified level than previously thought. I’m glad the stage presentation and her styling would show her as an artist in her own terms, and this will present the serious, somber message about domestic violence. It promises to be one of the emotional highlights of this contest and is most likely going to advance to the final and could duplicate or exceed its 10th place finish last year.
IRELAND: “Sunlight” – Nicky Byrne. It was one of the entries selected the earliest, and it received positive buzz then. But as the weeks wore on, buzz faded on this likeable pop number, despite Nicky’s heavy credentials as a former member of superstar Irish boyband Westlife. It might get douze points from the British and Australian public, but whether the juries will follow suit remains a big question, or will the rest of this pool for that matter.
F.Y.R. MACEDONIA: “Dona” – Kaliopi. Many fans rated this entry low and felt this is inferior to her 2012 entry “Crno i belo [Black and white]“. Me I found it catchier than her earlier song, what with the repetitive “Dona, Dona, Dona, Dona / Dona, Dona…” chorus. But then again, “Crno i belo” was not highly regarded then, but it unexpectedly did very well in the final. So I won’t underestimate this Balkan rock diva’s prospects, and she could pull off another respectable finish for her country.
LITHUANIA: “I’ve Been Waiting for this Night” – Donny Montell. Here is another returnee from the 2012 batch. It’s nice to see how well Donny Montell evolved from his “Love is Blind” days–back then he has an awkward though cute presence, but he won audiences over with his strong vocals and athleticism (people often talk about the blindfold gimmick, but I could never forget his one-arm cartwheel). Now, he has this slick boyband-ish charisma about him (slightly derived from latter day Justin Bieber), and his song is sleek Swedish pop. He will again display his athleticism as this time he has a trampoline gimmick (he’ll do a very high leap), but most fans and pundits are currently underwhelmed by the presentation, that he might miss joining his fellow Baltic Boys Justs and Juri Pootsmann in the final. But then again, just like Kaliopi, never underestimate this guy and though he’s deemed the weakest link of the Baltic Boys, his entry has lots of merits musically.
AUSTRALIA: “Sound of Silence” – Dami Im. I’m pleased that Australia is welcome in this contest again, and this country delivered another quality entry featuring the 2013 champion from the Australian version of X-Factor. In my opinion, this is better than Guy Sebastian’s entry last year, though Dami Im fans were first disappointed as they were expecting the same caliber as her previous output. Perhaps it’s not as danceable as her earlier work, but if you take it on its own terms and place this with the other entries in this contest, this is one of the frontrunners. Buzz about the sleek staging and elegant wardrobe are boosting this entry’s chances for a possible victory.
In many pictures, Dami reminds me of Björk, as Björk has these Asian features (and Dami is Korean). There were talks that the Australia broadcaster SBS is working with other Asian broadcasters to stage a Eurovision-style contest for the Asian region–I wholly would welcome that, though I have to note that unlike in Europe where many of the countries’ main TV networks are run by the government, in most Asian countries its more corporate-run businesses, so it will be interesting how it will all work (like for instance, in the Philippines, I know there will be major rivalry between ABS-CBN, GMA, and TV5 on who would have the rights to broadcast such an event, as the government network PTV clearly doesn’t have the resources to broadcast much less stage such a thing).
One final note on this entry. When I listened to the sleek dignified pop balladry of “Sound of Silence”, it made me recall my expectations for Anggun when she competed for France four years ago. I was expecting Anggun to sing an elegant, dignified ballad like this song, instead of that trashy “Echo (You and I)”–not even the presence of gymnastic hunks and Jean-Paul Gaultier’s wardrobe would detract from the fact that this song is crap-tacular. Anyway, can someone translate “Sound of Silence” into French and have Anggun record a French-language cover version, stat?
COMING UP: SECOND HALF of the SECOND SEMIFINAL